Did you know a photographer tells you to say “cheese” before snapping a picture because the pronunciation causes you to do something with your mouth that resembles a smile? Also, the absurdity of it can cause a genuine smile.
What is it about cheese that is so good? With hundreds of varieties ranging from milk type, to age, shape, region, firmness, fat content, additives, the cheesemakers themselves, you could eat a cheese a day for a year and not eat every cheese available.
If variety is the spice of life then cheese is certainly the life of any party. Whether you like creamy or dry, firm or semi-soft, pungent or subtle, there is a cheese for every occasion.
In a world of CEOs, Twitter handles and usernames, there is a title for every job out there except for maybe the cheesemaker. They’re just called “cheesemaker.” We could get a little Frenchie French and call them fromagere, but that still translates to cheesemaker. I thought that was interesting.
Here is a cheese-O-licious event to sink your teeth into. I’ve mentioned it before but want to make sure you get your tickets before they are gone. California’s Artisan Cheese Festival, a grand assemblage of boutique, artisan creameries, will be held in Sonoma County March 22-24. It is a fromage fest packed with the crme de la crme of California artisan cheesemakers.
If you embark on this lactose-loving journey you’ll probably find me hunkered down at one of my two absolute favorite creameries: Point Reyes
Farmstead Cheeses and Cypress Grove Chevre.
These two unique creameries have two distinct styles from two common-minded, sustainable artisan cheesemakers.
One of them preserves cow’s milk in sumptuous ways to create cheeses such as Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese, which is characteristically creamy with mineral notes and a mild saltiness imparted by the coastal breeze of the Pacific Ocean, which sweeps in and cures the hand-crafted wheels (see www.pointreyescheese.com).
The other manipulates goat’s milk into magnificent varieties of cheeses, all of which hold a place near and dear to my belly. I could name them all, but picking my favorite is like trying to choose my favorite child. Impossible! I will say, however, that their signature offering — the Humboldt Fog — is unlike any other goat’s milk cheese, with the vegetable ash layered into each wheel, depositing subtle earthiness and twang that is individual.
Cypress Grove is groovy and so are the names of its cheeses: Truffle Tremor, Bermuda Triangle, Midnight Moon, Lamb Chopper and Purple Haze, just to mention a few.
Other showstoppers attending this year’s fest are Bellwether Farms, fine producers of sheep and cow’s milk cheeses (www.bellwethercheese.com), and Cowgirl Creamery, a small batch producer that focuses on four soft ripened cheeses and three fresh varieties, all special and individual in composition. Cowgirl does, however, distribute extraordinary artisan cheeses from more than 200 prized producers from America and Europe. Head to their website and have an awesome sampling sent right to your door(www.cowgirlcreamery.com).
Obviously I don’t have room here to name every artisan that will be at the festival, but their website does. And if you think you don’t know enough about cheese to appreciate it, you will be able to learn firsthand from a great schedule of chefs from around the San Francisco Bay Area. Cheese “Wonder Woman” Laura Werlin will be on hand to spread the spreadable gospel of cheese. Other noteworthy speakers will demystify the world of queso. They even have some four-legged friends on hand to milk and actually make cheese.
This is really a great event. Check out the schedule and pencil in a few curricular learning opportunities: www.artisancheesefestival.com. I hope to see you there!
Can’t make the event? Go see Kent and the crew at The Cheese Shop. He has all of the above mentioned cheeses available over in Carmel, along with hundreds of other offerings and all the fixings you need to throw together an awesome cheese spread. While you’re there, pick up a great bottle of wine and you’ll have yourself the makings of a wonderful evening, full of smiles.
Celebrity chef Todd Fisher is a Herald columnist, chef de cuisine at Stick’s at the Inn at Spanish Bay and a brand consultant. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Apple Tart & Humboldt Fog
(Makes 8 servings)
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 sheet unbaked puff pastry
6 T. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
¼ cup Calvados (Apple Brandy)
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
6 (about 2¾ lbs.) Rome Beauty or McIntosh apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges each
8 oz. Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog
Steps: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a floured work surface, roll out puff pastry to a -inch thickness. Invert a 9-inch plate on top of dough; trim dough around plate with a sharp paring knife to form a round (discard scraps, or save for another use). Refrigerate until needed. Assemble the tart in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Press softened butter evenly into the bottom of the skillet, then sprinkle with the sugar. Arrange apple wedges in a circle around edge, fill in the center with remaining wedges. Pour Brandy over apples and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place skillet over medium heat and cook until sugar mixture is light amber in color and bubbly, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to oven; cook until apples have softened, about 30 minutes. Carefully place dough round on top; bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes more. Let cool about 20 minutes. Run a knife around edge of skillet; invert tart onto a serving platter. Replace any apples that may have stuck to bottom of skillet; drizzle with any remaining pan juices. Using a serrated knife, cut the tart into eight wedges and serve warm with a slice of Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog atop each wedge