When 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.
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.