A New Generation of Curd-Nerds

Cheese 101When locating your true calling, a commonly asked question is “what opportunity would you jump at whether or not you were paid?” The answer that trips effortlessly off my tongue is “share my insane passion for cheese, most ideally with children.”

This summer, I had the privilege of doing just that; teach two sessions of Cheese 101 For Kids at the A Little Yumminess Around the World Summer Camp in San Francisco. When my friends from the blog-o-sphere Simran and Stacie, the camp producers, presented the opportunity, I did a graceless pirouette and leapt at the chance.

In preparing for my sessions, I received valuable guidance from Lassa Skinner, owner of Culture Magazine who was also generous in providing free issues as a takeaway for campers. I offered four cheeses for tasting: fresh goat cheese (chevre), French camembert, Basque sheep’s milk cheese, and gorgonzola dolce. I wanted the campers to sample three types of milk: cow, goat, sheep; and a range of textures from soft, perishable fresh chevre to firm alpine-style cheese.

When I stood before the class of eager campers for the first time and introduced myself as a self-described “cheese nerd,” I knew in that moment that what I was doing felt very right.

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Before tasting, I encouraged the campers to utilize every sense in the process. First, look at the cheese; pick up and touch the cheese to analyze texture; inhale the aromas; finally, place the cheese on their tongue and savor before gobbling it up. I was most impressed with the adjectives (goaty, stinky, tart, mushroomy, etc.) that these sophisticated city dwellers used to describe the selections and encouraged them to write their impressions on tasting notes that I created in partnership with Stacie the resident artist and co-director. One camper amusingly described the aroma of an aged goat cheese by offering “it smells like hotel room.” Wait! What?

We ended our discussion by pondering what recipes we could create using each of the cheeses: pastas, pizzas, salad toppings, not to mention grilled cheese sandwiches and mac n’ cheese.

Not every cheese was loved by every camper, but they were adventurous in sampling each offering. I felt honored to share in their impressions and have the opportunity to infect them with my love for cheese. As I was preparing to leave the last of the two sessions, a boy walked up to me and volunteered “I think I’m going to be a cheese nerd!” I responded in kind with a super geeky high-five, then walked out into the street, beaming with pride.

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Udder Fun: 10 Excuses to Visit a Goat 

IMG_5371(1)Before spring begins its do-si-do with summer, I wanted to herd my family up to a goat farm to witness baby goat (kid) goodness and participate in a farm tour. I singled out Redwood Hill Farm in Sebastopol – producers of some of my favorite goat cheese.

What was only supposed to be an hour car ride doubled, as my inner GPS and sheer stubbornness made several wrong turns. Thanks to a ‘book on CD’, a patient husband, and entertaining child theatrics, we arrived in good form.

The unexpected happened. This excursion topped the charts as one of the most memorable and enjoyable family adventures we’ve had to date. I kid you not.

10 Excuses to Visit Redwood Hill Farm

1. No excuses needed, really. Baby goats. Outdoors. Community. Cheese. What’s not to love!? It’s an udderly fun country-mouse excursion for any city-mouse family.

2. Essence of barnyard! We all need a whiff for the soul from time to time.

3. An opportunity to picnic in the shade of an apple tree and delight in a much needed down-shift with family, not to mention an opportunity to sample one of the many delectable Redwood Hill Farm cheeses. We inhaled the California Crottin, enjoyed with just-picked cherries from a local farm stand.

4. Spring on display in all its gorgeous glory: blossoming apple orchards, a kaleidoscope of colorful wildflowers, and new life in countless forms.

5. A chance to let your ‘kids’ milk a goat with their own city-bred hands.

6. A live bluegrass performance in an apple orchard.

7. Design your own wildflower-ensconced fairy wand at the craft table.

8. Watch a goat milking demonstration; an opportune time to ask questions about farm life from one of the founding farm family members.

9. Grin from ear-to-ear while surrounded by baby goats. Kids are extremely personable, energetic, entertaining, and they come in an assortment of unique personalities. Diva. Picky eater. Snuggle-bug. Social butterfly…

10. Hug a goat. Brush a goat. Have your hair nibbled on by a goat. Just don’t attempt to leave the property with a goat. They catch you (ahem).

Herd on over to Redwood Hill or a local visitor-friendly farm for a tour. You’re bound to have a goat time! Kidding! So cheesy!

Tour details.

10 Fun Facts About Goat Kids from Redwood Hill Farm.

A Cheese Making Class for Kids? Moooo!

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One point has been established repeatedly on this blog…I love cheese…I’m a cheese luva…I frequently obsess about the next piece of cheese to savor. If I’m going to be considered any kind of enabler in this lifetime, I’m down with ‘cheese pusher’ and my children are easy prey as they love almost any variety of cheese I put in their path. I don’t think you need any further convincing.

Last weekend, I brought Caleb and Sadie into the City for a workshop called Cheesemaking for Kids at 18 Reasons in the Mission District. I have participated in many cheese making classes, but this is the first one I had seen that was geared toward children. I wasted no time and registered both kiddos and I volunteered to photograph the class, simply to get a contact high off the experience.

DSC_0339Louella Hill, known as the Milk Maid and owner of her eponymous business, teaches adults and children how to make a variety of cheese, including fresh chevre, burrata, mozzarella, ricotta to name a few. The class, which was made up of a very diverse group of pint-sized city dwellers, started out with a rather sophisticated cheese tasting. Caleb especially did not shy away from even the most pungent of offerings. I kvelled a little. Before long, Louella was instructing the students on how to make crème fraiche, basic cheese, and mozzarella.

All of the children, including several parents who hung around, asked great questions and were genuinely excited to learn about the science of cheese making. Louella, a skilled instructor, did a fabulous job packing a ton of great lessons in a short period of time adding an equal dose of levity and fun for good measure. Caleb and Sadie came away with a few samples of cheese they had actually made in class and they were proud of their accomplishments. I am just thrilled that they both seem equally primed to follow in my cheese-addicted footsteps. There are worse fates to wish upon your children.

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18 Reasons

A Delicious Beta Test

Cheese boardBy now, you have likely noticed that I’ve almost completely hijacked what was to be a charming blog about cooking with my children and turned it into a big old flaming cheese themed me-fest! Well, hang in there…Caleb and Sadie will soon return. In the meantime, allow me to tell you about a delicious experiment.

Several weeks ago, I held a small event in my home and called it an Artisan Cheese Pop-In. I invited a handful of cheese-loving guinea pigs to help beta test an idea I’ve been incubating for far too long. For years, I have dreamed about starting a small business that offers food-themed workshops (not specific to cheese), both hands-on and informational, creating an inviting and inclusive environment around a family table of sorts.

Intimidated by business plans, loans, and lease agreements (not to mention big, scary leaps of faith and potential bankruptcy), I’ve kept my idea safely on the back-burner, until recently when I decided to just hold a gathering and launch the concept in the comfort of my home. What the heck.

So, I asked my guests to ‘bring to the table’ a selection of artisan cheese that they could tell us about, and a story or two about food memories from childhood. Culture Magazine was kind enough to donate a stack of recent issues and I had some of my favorite cheese books on display for good measure. Jesse Rogala, a talented local photographer and founder of Left Shore Photography, was onsite to capture the event. And capture it he did with just the right energy and mood.

My friends not only contributed a delicious and distinctive selection of cheese, but also came equipped with personal food stories that when told, brought us all a little closer. I supplied some of my favorites: Fourme d’ Ambert, Le Secret de Compostelle, and Epoisses, and accompaniments such as acacia honey, figs from our tree, olives, apricots, and plum preserves. Oh, and wine of course.

For me, this was not intended to be a cheese party – a two hour slot to eat cheese, sip wine, talk, then move onto the next event. It was an attempt at putting my ideas out there to see what it feels like and how they would be received. I feel successful and proud for having taken this first step, and I am grateful to those who took part. If you weren’t invited to this one, I am confident that there will be others!

Photographs by Left Shore Photography (Jesse Rogala)

Land O’ Cheese at Outside Lands

IMG_1832-1.JPG Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of sardine-packed concert venues, large crowds, contact highs, and Jumbotron-sized speakers blaring bands that I’ve never heard of. Schlep into San Francisco on a bone-chilling, foggy day only to be surrounded by thousands upon thousands of intoxicated young adults. Not so tempting. However, sweeten the deal with an opportunity to volunteer for Culture Magazine and be surrounded by an impressive selection of cheese for an entire day, not to mention be in the entertaining company of Lassa Skinner, the owner of Culture Magazine, and her merry band of cheese passionistas, and I could be swayed.

I’m grateful to Mateo for taking the kids around the city, while I spent the day volunteering at Cheese Lands, pretending I was a cheesemonger for the day – slicing and prepping cheese, then assembling enticing cheese plates for the masses of surprisingly sophisticated palates wandering Outside Lands. As long as I was within the confines of the cheese booth, surrounded by great people and copious amounts of amazing cheese, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. IMG_1833-1.JPG IMG_1830-2.JPG IMG_1835-0.JPG

A French Cheese Class in Paris

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Day five of my reacquaintance rendezvous in Paris. After participating in a wonderful walking tour of Notre Dame, I headed to l’Hotel de Ville to La Cuisine Paris, for a French cheese and wine pairing class that I had registered for prior to my arrival. Lucky for me, the school, which teaches classes in English, is located at the base of the hotel and was a pleasant 10 minute walk from my apartment in Le Marais (4th Arrondissement).

I arrived just before the start of the class and introduced myself to Jane Bertch, the lovely founder of the school who originates from Chicago (and someone I could envision becoming fast friends with over the subject of anything food). I then met our young Parisian teacher Emily as well as a couple from Norway, a woman from Australia, and a young couple from New York – all signed up for the class.

Once gathered, we were offered umbrellas, then promptly headed out on a walking tour of the nearby island of Il Saint Louis. First, we visited a fromagerie on the main walking street, met the owner and were treated to several samples of his perfectly aged cheese. My favorite, being a truffle flecked tomme, an earthy and unctuous delight (shout out to Martine)! I became particularly giddy when I noticed he had a large round of Mimolette, which was recently banned by the FDA in the US because it is brought to you in part by small mites which live on the periphery of the cheese and help form the little craters in the rind. When I pointed to it and began jumping up-and-down, the owner handed out some samples and I think I floated above the ground bit, or was that when I ate the truffle cheese?

We then bid farewell to the owner and left with several examples of French cheese including Livarot, Fourme d’ Ambert, Brie de Meaux, three varieties of aged chèvre, and the aforementioned Mimolette.

Just around the corner we walked into a small wine shop, where we met the amusing and quintessentially Parisian owner who was very much a contrarian, and probably someone best taken in small doses. We left with a recommended bottle of wine and walked back to the school on the slightly overcast streets of Paris, along the banks of the Seine.

We walked upstairs to the cooking school and sat around a table in the back of the kitchen. Before long, we were being offered samples of the cheese we had purchased on our walk. For each cheese, a selection of wine that paired extremely well with it.

Sitting around the sizable dining table, eating copious amounts of French cheese and talking with a knowledgeable instructor and my ‘partners in cheese’ about my favorite subject, was as close as I’ll likely come to arriving in heaven for some time. C’est la vie!

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Greetings From Paris

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Long story short, I’m in Paris, France (insert equal parts elation and exhaustion here). This is my first trip away from my family and without the kids since Caleb was born, close to nine years ago. I’ve been dreaming of traveling to France and taking a self-guided culinary tour. Flying a family of four here wasn’t in the cards anytime soon so Mateo and I decided to send me off to fulfill a long-standing dream of eating my way through the streets of Paris. So here I am, in the ‘City of Love’, on a reacquaintance tour with myself.

I landed on Monday and I’ve been absolutely in love since the moment I arrived, if not a lot exhausted. I’ll fill you in, in bits and pieces but yesterday was my second day in Paris and after visiting Notre Dame then taking a walking tour of the Left Bank, I visited my first fromagerie (cheese shop), Laurent Dubois, then purchased a baguette from a nearby patisserie, and pate from a surly Parisian (most other encounters with locals have been surprisingly pleasant). With a grumbly belly, I walk to toward the Seine and sat in a park and sat on a park bench facing the river – eating a rustic pate sandwich, nibbling on goat cheese and a pungent wash-rind cheese, feeling like the happiest woman alive.

Hot On the Cheese Trail

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Mateo recently returned home from a work retreat with a map of the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail. This handy little map brought to you by the California Artisan Cheese Guild keeps making its way back into my hands, so on Saturday I decided to take it for a spin. Mid-morning, my family packed into the Camry and embarked on a cheese trail adventure.

Our three stops on the Marin driving tour were Marin French Cheese Company just outside of Novato, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company in the small town of Nicasio, and our family favorite – Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes.

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We arrived at Marin French just in time for lunch, along with a merry band of bikers. Inside the sizeable retail operation, we sampled their cow’s milk offerings. I’m not a big fan of this dairy, but some of the first ‘exotic’ cheeses I ever sampled in my youth, were their Rouge & Noir camembert and brie. I find their cheese to be too mild, lacking in distinguishing qualities, and most everything we tasted was young and not ripened enough to my liking.

Just as I was about to give up on flavor, I honed in on a style I hadn’t heard of, Schloss, a square wash-rind variety that makes up for all of their mild-mannered options with the flavor and pungency of an Austrian style aged cow’s milk cheese. We walked our stinky little Schloss out to a picnic area near the small, picturesque lake and enjoyed it with a hearty seeded baguette and salami. Sadie and Caleb shared a portion of our snack with the geese and ducks gathered near our table, while Mateo and I sat in the sunshine basking in a quiet moment.

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We then drove for about 10 minutes until we reached Nicasio Valley Cheese Company. There, we sampled a large variety of…wait for it…more mild-mannered cheeses. My taste buds were losing interest fast and I’m thinking bring on the stink bring on the funk! At last, I found a happy marriage of flavor and pungency in their Nicasio Reserve, a Swiss-Italian mountain cheese. We bought a square to later share with our friends at dinner, then on to Point Reyes Station!

Cowgirl Creamery never lets me down. I will wait in the longest of lines only to be rewarded with delectable, perfectly aged cheese that lacks not at all in flavor and personality. Caleb and I particularly enjoyed the Gouda-style Wagon Wheel and a very mature Red Hawk, which is made right where we stood and flourishes off the salt air cultures unique to that area. Finishing our cheese tour at Cowgirl Creamery was the perfect end note and with happy bellies filled with way too much cheese, we returned back to the East Bay. What a trip!

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