Books for the holidays?

A couple of people have asked and the answer is yes.  If you want an autographed copy of either Cheddar or Cheesemonger for a holiday gift, send me an email before Sunday 12/10 and I will get them to you.  $20 for either includes shipping in the USA. (Mailing to other countries will cost more.) . Gordon.zola.edgar at gmail dot com.

Both books are great for corporate gift giving too!  I’m sure my publisher can set you up with enough for every employee/vendor/customer on your list!

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Lance Hahn 1967-2007

I don’t usually put up non-cheese content here, but today is the 10 year anniversary of Lance Hahn’s death. Since I literally found out about his death on my way to my 40th birthday party, his death is forever linked to my milestone birthdays.  It’s not a burden. I kind of like that it helps me remember him when thinking of my own mortality.  I still can believe that I won’t run into him walking down Valencia St.  Not that I ever walk down Valencia St. anymore.

I feel like in the last ten years, I actually appreciate him even more as a songwriter and home-made intellectual.  I still listen to his music often.  Sometimes it makes me feel good and sometimes it makes me cry, sometimes I’m all, “that’s silly Lance…” but there is so much there to chew on.

So anyways, I was going to write something new, but what I wrote 10 years ago is better than anything I could come up with now.  We still miss you, Lance.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

10/23/2007
I never really understood Lance’s songwriting until I listened to radio in Hawai’i. Island reggae, Hawai’ian pop, and other Hawai’ian songs have a sense of history. There are lots of elements that, out-of-context, I might find sappy or overly nostalgic. But they not only work with those songs, they are crucial elements to the genre.

Lance’s songs, especially the Cringer and early J Church ones, had that same element. I’m nostalgic and sappy by nature, mind you, so they always appealed to me. But there was no real punk genre for it. His bands mirrored his personality more than most songwriters I know. Both Cringer and J Church were intellectual but friendly, political but approachable, fun but taking themselves seriously. Unlike many of the bands Lance (and I) admired, his lyrics were never preachy. He always sang as one of us, not to us.

Petrograd
“Sometimes I wanna go back
Sometimes to the beginning
Sometimes I wouldn’t change a thing.
Sometimes the things I’ve done, It seems like martyrdom
Sometimes it doesn’t mean a thing
Don’t wanna,
Won’t be sad
Like the sailors
Of Petrograd
…”

Lance was a sweetheart. Everyone who’s written about his death so far has called him “one of the good ones”. He could get away with writing lyrics like those, which could easily be read as pretentious on paper, because his personality came through in his singing. He wasn’t comparing himself to the theory of the Great Revolutionary, he was connecting through history to the emotions of the people he admired and wanted to relate to. Ones who died anonymously in service to their beliefs but who were just ordinary working folks doing what they felt was right..

He’d also just probably read an Alexander Berkman book and wanted to write a song about it. He was always reading.

Lance was an auto-didact, a student of history, especially anarchist history. I mean geez, he even put Leon Czolgosz, unlabeled, on a J Church shirt. He was also sweet, kind, thoughtful, and quietly funny. He knew how to make people feel good but more than that, he cared about making people feel good. He carried a million details in his brain, surprising you with something you said offhand at some show or some party months before. He was a special, special man.

Lance lived above me on Valencia St, half a block from Epicenter Zone. Lance’s apartment was referred to as jokingly “The Crash Pad” after an SF Weekly reporter dubbed it that in an article.* Our apartment was already name “House of Failure” because our phone number was 552-FAIL. Oh, those early ’90s…

Here’s Lance on our back stairs watching some illegal punk show we put on in our backyard when the 1st floor tenants went out of business. 1993
failure stairs071

It seems symbolic that many of his songs remind me of our shared neighborhood. Early J Church is so time and place for me: all songs about the Mission in the early ’90s., While traveling out of the Bay Area for an extended period, and leaving from my apartment on Mission St , “November” made me cry while riding a train through Eastern Europe. I had made a Mission District bands cassette and as soon as he mentioned rain on Mission St, I started bawling.

“As the rain falls hard, it fills the cracks on Mission St…”
“No matter who you are, you feel the same when you’re wet, cold and alone…”
“We only dream to float downstream, reminded by the rain,
Tied to a tree, cannot break free, reminded by the rain”

It’s a sad song about rain making people feel alone, but it does the typical Lance thing. He empathizes with strangers and tries to find a human truth. This un-self-conscious sappiness is a unifying force in Lance’s songs. Even the punks have to admit their fuzzy feelings sometimes. It kept his lyrics, no matter how political, from being as dogmatic and alienating as a lot of the other anarcho-punks.

I think my favorite thing about Lance was just running into him in the street. I can think of hours spent on Market/14th, at 16th/Valencia, in front of Lost Weekend, just gossiping, talking about bands, demonstrations and friends. He made this city a better place by just being around, having time to hang out. He also rarely missed a demonstration. He had good priorities even if rather than being in front with a bullhorn he’s be bringing up the rear, poking fun at the sectarians and trying-too-hard anarchist kids. I think he’d appreciate that my favorite picture of him was from the San Francisco Rodney King riots. Hip-hoppers and punks were unified in their desire to liberate electronics to facilitate their communication with a hostile world. Somewhere, maybe his room, I saw a picture of Lance coming out of an electronics store with his hands full and his eyes blacked out, like any punk wouldn’t recognize his long hair, his slouch and his band t-shirt. Or maybe I just made up that picture in my head.

Lance still seems like a San Francisco icon 7 years after moving to Texas.

My oddest Lance moment was probably seeing him play guitar for Beck at Slim’s. It was near the height of Beck’s post-“Loser” glory. If I remember correctly, he knew Beck from playing at some German squat show together back in the day, but I could have jumbled up that memory. Anyways, he put me on the guest list, possibly because no one else we knew wanted to see Beck cuz he was like, all popular and stuff. It was so odd seeing Lance play and not be the central feature of the band. The first thing it made me realize that Lance could actually really play guitar. The second was that in another scene Lance’s non-traditional singing voice might have forced him into a lesser role if he wanted to be in a band. What a loss that would have been.

The third thing was seeing him walk across the club without kids coming up to talk to him. He was probably the most approachable band guy I’ve ever met, constantly talking to kids who came to SF hoping to see him working his shift at Epicenter or at some of the bars, taquerias, and cafes he mentioning in his songs, if not his shows. Occasionally he’d have to hide from a creepy one, but that was rare. Usually he’d hang out, talk about their hometown (which he probably had played), and generally treat them as a new friend. There were times he really represented all that the punk scene should have been.

I hadn’t seen Lance in awhile when I got the word he went into a coma.. My heart goes out to his partner and his friends there. To many of us in San Francisco, or maybe just to me, his bad health was a little hard to fathom. My memory of Lance is full of mellow energy, happy to see you, happy to chat, always looking for new bands and new fun. I imagine that the last couple of years, being on dialysis, not being able to go to every show, was incredibly hard for him. But I always thought I’d just run into him in the Mission or at a show one day. That he would have beaten his bad organs, that he’d be the same old Lance.

Old Epicenter workers crashing the Epicenter closing party 1999. I believe this was right after Lance’s first brush with hospitalization. (Thanks Jeff Heermann!)
goodbye epicenter

In one of his best known songs, Lance wrote:
So where’s my sense of humor?
My life is a disaster,
No one has a future,
So let’s all get there faster

But it was a cautionary tale. He wasn’t a No Future Drunk Punk.. He was writing about going to the local bar and looking at what he might become if he let himself. He didn’t want to get ground down like other working class people around him there: unhappy, overworked, underpaid. The narrator in the song reacts to those thoughts by deciding to blow off work the next day and take time doing something important for himself.

Lance organized his life to be a writer and artist. He recorded what… 300 songs? His bands put out albums faster than the Minutemen in their prime. He wrote for MRR and was trying to document the obscure bands of the ’80s Peace Punk scene. Bands that meant a lot to people like us even if almost no one has ever heard of them. He was one of the people who make all these alternative scenes and obscure political movements possible. People in every city with a punk scene, or that once had a punk scene, are mourning him

He worked his whole life for it, never getting famous or rich, but doing it anyway. It’s something a lot of people promised when they were 18 but few actually did. He meant it, ya know? All of it.

Bye Lance. You are missed already.

Hott cheese of ACS 2017 (or at least the ones of which I happened to take in-focus pictures)

 

Oh chocolate chevre…  you are so tasty, like a little goat milk cheesecake.choco chevre acs 2017

And you with your little fuse…. you look like something an 1800s anarchist would throw at the ruling class! little bombs acs 2017

You may be bathed in wine, but you could be a ska band logo.brigid bender acs 2017

I don’t remember your name, one-night-cheese-stand but your party on top, scaly on the side, rind is very unique.  I’ve never met anyone just like you.cheese to judge 2017

The Minutemen had a song about “Jesus and Tequila.” 164 KN 01 brings you cheeses and tequila. Oh yes.tequila cheese acs 2017

The beauty of the thistle, thanks to Lark’s Meadow Farm.You need to copyright the word “Thistlicious” right now.larks meadow acs 2017

American Cheese Society conference, 2017

CheeseCon Withdrawal

I think a lot of us go through withdrawal after CheeseCon is over. Mongers always have access to great cheese, so it’s not that. It’s the community that comes together once a year that’s impossible to duplicate. Even as it often energizes me all the way through the holidays, it’s always hard to leave.

cornerstone 2017(Cornerstone from Parish Hill Creamery)

Here are five things that I will miss:

Randomly Bumping into American Cheese Society Lifetime Achievement Award Winners and Other Amazing Folks. This is a reminder that we are living in what will be looked upon as a significant era of cheese history. It’s easy to take for granted because almost all of these folks are down-to-earth and easy to talk to but we cannot let ourselves do it. On the morbid side of the equation, when I last saw Daphne Zepos and Steve Ehlers I didn’t think it would be my last. On the less morbid side, people move on. When I first started attending, I could not have conceived of a conference, or an ACS, without Kathleen Shannon Finn and Ricki Carroll, but here we are.

By the way, congrats Peg and Sue!  Well-deserved. Well-deserved.

peg and sue 2017

Normalization of Cheese Obsession There were 1300 people at this conference. How many more cheese-obsessed professional — not just widget movers — actually exist in our business? Double that number? Quadruple that number? No matter how you cut it, we are a community of less than 10,000 people in a country* of 320 million. It’s a very special time when we can come together and be the majority in a small geographical space.

It’s why I always think that the best Cheesecons are in small cities or places. I’ve had many fantasies in my lifetime about winning the lottery and setting up a town of political activists or punks and artists, but this is our little temporary zone of cheesies, Cheesetown USA, that we create every year. It likely wouldn’t be as fun — or intellectually stimulating — if we really lived this way all year long, but it’s awesome as an curd oasis in a year of whey.

awards ceremony crowd 2017(Awards Ceremony, Denver Sheraton)

The High Level of Cheese Talk It’s not anti-customer to say that I have explained what the crunchy bits in cheese are roughly 10,000 times. I enjoy doing it. But going to a panel that discusses the advances in our understanding of these crystals over the last decade is a once-a-year opportunity. I mean, in 1996 I called them salt crystals because that was the best explanation of anyone I had access to at the time. We are in an artisan cheese-science explosion!

crystal chart 2017(Thanks to the amazing Paul Kindstedt and Pat Polowsky!)

PETA Protests I have spent a large part of my life being a protestor in uncomfortable situations. I am here to tell you that no one protests insignificant people. Look how far we’ve come that we are protestable! Also, PETA is stupid.

And hey, how come I didn’t know there was an anti-DeVos protest in Denver when I was there? I would have been with The People in the streets for that.

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(Yes, I am in this picture of an anti-Reagan protest in 1984.  Can you find me?)

Cheese Surprises On such a stage, surprises are magnified. This year had them in abundance. As a judge in the competition, I ranked two companies I never heard of** in my (personal) top five: Idyll Farms in Michigan and Shepherds Manor Creamery in Maryland.

Speaking of judging, the top two Best of Show winners were farmstead!***  Best of Show: Tarentaise Reserve by Farms For City Kids Foundation/Spring Brook Farm. 2nd Place: St. Malachi by The Farm at Doe Run. 3rd Place: Harbison by Jasper Hill. I mean holy crap! 150 years of industrialization of cheesemaking left farm-made cheese practically extinct before ACS was formed. We’ve come a long way when the two best cheeses in the competition – our largest competition ever with over 2000 cheeses entered– are from single-farm sources. That is truly something spectacular.

idyll farm 2017(Idyll Farms cheese at Festival of Cheese)

So I know it’s hard. Personally I try to hold onto the conference feeling as long as possible. Organize those pics so you can remember the contexts. Hold on to those hand-outs for future reference. Re-write those notes so you can understand them layer. Write about your experiences. Share what you learned with your co-workers. Call and email those business cards you collected, even/mostly just to talk.

It is an amazing thing to be able to have in our lives and these things are not necessarily permanent, historically speaking. Savor it, spread the cooperative nature of the event, and, hopefully, see you next year.

cheese judges 2017(some of the cheese judges from 2017)

*I know ACS technically includes all of the Americas and we also have international members from other continents but clearly it draws mostly from the USA.

**Judging is anonymous so I didn’t learn this until the awards ceremony.

***Farmstead means cheese made only with the milk from one farm produced on that farm. I edited this paragraph because someone not from Jasper Hill gave me some bad info.  Harbison is never farmstead ( I had thought this batch was an exception) and this batch was a blend of Jasper Hill milk and that of another farm in Greensboro.  Sorry.

 

Italy Trip — Water Buffalo and Thistle Rennet

I know this is a public post on my website but really I am doing this series old-internet style: Basically, it’s my diary so that I can look back and remember this trip years down the line. But hey, there are pictures for you!

Except at Fiandino, which was the next stop on our trip. No pictures allowed! Le Fattorio Fiandino specializes in thistle rennet cheeses – including a Grana (Gran Kinara). The Fiandino family has actually been making cheese since the late 1700s, which they say may make them the oldest family cheesemaking company in Italy. The also make the Lou Bergier which we’ve carried on and off for years. Sometimes too subtle for the American market it’s a great, mellow, grassy, milky cheese probably most comparable, taste-wise, to a young Tomme Crayeuse.

Oh, I took a picture at their store.  That should be ok.

fiandino cheeses

The next cheese place we went was Quattro Portoni. I was super excited to visit because 1. Water buffalo! And 2. Casatica, the bloomy-rind buffalo cheese I love so much. While we sell a ton of water buffalo mozzarella, especially in tomato season, probably the most requested cheese in the last few years is “anything with buffalo milk that is not mozzarella.” Quattro Portoni has that for sure.

And just look at these beautiful beasts!

buffalo

Look at that beautiful cheese!

casatica

and these!

buffalo caciocavallo

Some of the cheese even looked like artistic loaves of bread:
bread or cheese

When I think of water buffalo cheese, I usually think, “luscious.”  Not Jesse Luscious from Blatz, but luscious like the richest, milkiest, grassiest cheese that just melts on your tongue like a chocolate truffle. There are exceptions to this of course, there are more and more styles of cheese made with buffalo milk and many of those don’t lend themselves to that kind of description (another water buffalo cheese I tried as a work in progress elsewhere was described to me as, “a struggle in the mouth”) but the Quattro Portoni Casatica meets those high demands.  And their (Taleggio-style) Quadrello di Bufala is all that with an extra kick of pungent.

On this stop of the trip, the full beauty of cheese and animals were on display.  I didn’t want to leave.

portoni

 

I should note that this trip was made possible by Michele Buster at Forever Cheese and Brad Dube at Food Matters Again. Ethics require me to say that you should take everything written here with a grain of salt since they took me on the trip. Of course, I also carried these cheeses for decades without getting a trip to Italy so keep that in mind too.

Italy Trip — Parmigiano Reggiano (Morning)

 

parm regg

Before I write more about Parmigiano Reggiano I want to make a pledge. For years – even after I knew it was wrong – I referred to the number on the wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano as the “farm.” This may be true in some cases – if the cheese is farmstead, but most Parmigiano Reggiano is made from locally pooled milk, often from cooperatives. The correct term is “caseificio” or cheese factory. In our case “cooperative” would also be ok because the milk for our Parmigiano Reggianos all comes from a seven-member co-op in Reggio Emilia.

The “509” on the top is the number I am talking about. Each wheel has a caseifico number and if you want, you can even trace yours here. The other interesting thing about the picture below is that you can see it does not yet have the “export” brand in the big empty space between the caseificio number and the date.  At less than a year old, it is not yet known if this wheel will be good enough to age long enough to earn that marker.

509 parmigiano reggiano no export brand

Even though I have sold Parmigiano Reggiano for almost 23 years, I learned a lot by actually visiting. There really is no replacement for being in the actual place where something is made. Literally breathing in the milk-heavy air… really seeing – step-by-step – what it takes to make such an amazing thing as Parmigiano Reggiano.

parm regg vat ready to cut

Because when you see what it takes it’s hard to believe — and I probably shouldn’t write this — that you can get a very good Parmigiano Reggiano so cheap! I mean, I know that it’s still a relatively expensive thing to buy when the average person is figuring out their shopping list, but the process – limited region, copper vats, specialized tools, hand-production, only two wheels per vat – is painstaking. And then it has to be aged (for high quality cheese ) for two years before you can sell it. The few nods to modernity, like a machine to lift the cheeses, are understandable to anyone who uses their body to make a living.

cutting parm regg curds

This is so beautiful, I really had to keep myself from diving in!

I would say this picture below is of the person who makes our cheese, but that’s not technically true. He’s the person who makes the cheese we will buy in the future. Because he’s only been the master cheesemaker at this plant for about two years, we have yet to try his cheese even though we’ve been carrying the #509 Parmigiano Reggiano for years!
adriano parm regg maker

Right now, this caseificio is only making 18 wheels per day.  All are made in these copper vats that fit two wheels per make.  This means that we buy about four days of their production every year.  This really feels significant when you are standing in the make room, meeting the people who make your cheese, and who depend on their high quality standards being recognized so that they continue the traditions that grew up over the last 900 years or so in the region where they live.

tying off parm regg

 

I mean, there’s a reason that “parmesan” has been industrialized and cheapened.  It’s a great cheese with little risk of spoilage that provides nutrition and flavor. But every time I try (or sell) a “parmesan” alternative to DOP Parmigiano Reggiano I cringe a little at endangering the tradition that creating a truly epic cheese.  I mean, I get it, I really do.  I get that half the price for a domestic parm is a necessity for a lot of people, but it’s also about 1/10 of the flavor of a truly good Parmigiano Reggiano with it’s complex fruity, sharp, nutty flavor.
parm regg wheels

I like to concentrate on one caseificio because it usually ensures that we are selling great Parmiginao Reggiano that’s worth the price.  Parmigiano Reggiano quality does have some potential problems on both ends of the age spectrum.  Some Parm Regg that advertises its long age is old simply because it’s been sitting in someone’s warehouse for awhile.  Due to a change of export rules, Parmigiano Reggiano is now allowed into the US at 18 months.  It’s still good cheese, but not really what most folks are looking for in terms of texture or depth of flavor. Also, pre-grated tubs tend to be from less highly-rated wheels and include rinds, just so you know…

Anyway, getting to actually visit the maker of our Parmigiano Reggiano was a highlight of my life in cheese.  The smell, the taste of the curds from the vat, seeing the whole process from milk-to-cheese was a pilgrimage of sorts, recognizing that there is something very special that is produced here and has been for hundred of years before Italy was even a unified country.  Visiting makes you question, once again, how people figured out this whole cheesemaking thing.  One can envision an intuitive jump that gave us fresh cheese, chevre or feta, but visiting Reggio Emile makes you admire those actual artisans who figured out the mystery of curds that would allow something perishable to be transformed into something less fleeting,  ensuring there would be food to eat months and years down the line. There’s a vision implicit to every wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano that makes it a triumph of human spirit as well as amazingly tasty food.

509 parmigiano reggiano aging

 
I should note that this trip was made possible by Michele Buster at Forever Cheese and Brad Dube at Food Matters Again. Ethics require me to say that you should take everything written here with a grain of salt since they took me on the trip. Of course, I also carried these cheeses for decades without getting a trip to Italy so keep that in mind too.

 

 

Italy Trip — Parmigiano Reggiano (evening)

Next up after Pecorino Romano was Parmigiano Reggiano. We arrived near Modena at twilight and visited a Parmigiano Reggiano producer and ager. This was not the caseificio we buy from but it was still interesting to see. Much bigger and more modern than our caseificio, this factory makes about 100 wheels a day.

parm regg vats

Cheese professionals hold on for a second because I know you know this — while 100 wheels doesn’t sound like a whole lot, you have to remember that these wheels are 85lbs each when sold and this is a lot of cheese. Even the biggest producers don’t make much more than double this amount per day. While there a number of producers who’ve recently gone out of business– especially post-earthquake — Parmigiano Reggiano, despite being sold all over the world, is still a cheese (mostly) made with very traditional methods in the region where it was born.

(Here are pictures of an aging room after the earthquake that was posted on the wall)

parm regg earthquake

Still, most of our Parm sightseeing would wait until the next day. That night we just watched the the milk truck to come and deliver the milk for tomorrow’s cheese. Why is this important? Because the milk has to be stored overnight and then skimmed in order to make Parmigiano Reggiano the right way. There wasn’t a lot of action going on, but there’s no Parm in the morning without the milk from the night before.

And that’s kinda beautiful:

parm milk

 

 

I should note that this trip was made possible by Michele Buster at Forever Cheese and Brad Dube at Food Matters Again. Ethics require me to say that you should take everything written here with a grain of salt since they took me on the trip. Of course, I also carried these cheeses for decades without getting a trip to Italy so keep that in mind too.