Invitation: attend Farmstead Cheesemaking cheese tasting and cheese making class, featuring Wil Edwards, recently of Harley Goat Farms Dairy, with Alex Fox, wine director at Myth restaurant in San Francisco.
Jubilation: seven amazing cheeses, all but one farmstead, paired with five or six or seven (who's counting?) wines chosen by a gifted sommelier.
This event was presented to me courtesy of my new friend, Marcia (rhymes with "Garcia") Gagliardi, aka tablehopper, who was working with Tutti Foodie, a new presence in my foodie world. They're doing good stuff—finding products and writings and events that they share with their subscribers. Of which I am one, and think you should be, too.
The meet and greet started with a glass of prosecco, a little kissyface with Marcia, and a brief visit with Jennifer Jeffrey before we chose seats in the front row. It was hard not to touch the pretty cheeses, which were artfully placed around a pile of Spanish marcona almonds. Also hard not to touch the raspberries staring us in the face, piled high with apple slices, grapes, and strawberries, but we both restrained ourselves. I was mentally polishing my halo while still wanting to lunge like Seabiscuit out of the gate: "Let me at the cheese, please!"
Overview: cheese and wine. Two of the oldest man(ahem)made foods in the world, along with bread and beer. Both fermented. Being the first person to eat a fermented food must be an act of both desperation (I'm starving) and courage, according to Alex Fox, pictured here. Because you know, it's gonna be funky.
"Funky" is a word used frequently by the hilariously self-effacing Wil Edwards, whom I understand is represented by the William Morris Agency. He's not? He should be. I hadn't known that he was a professional photographer for fifteen years before encountering Harley Goat Farms Dairy owner, Dee Harley, at a party eight years ago. His life took a radical turn when he visited the farm in Pescadero: “I begged her, begged her, to work there. I was thinking, free cheese!”
Wil reflected on the things that had led him to becoming a world-class cheesemaker. His childhood refrigerator? “The nastiest-smelling refrigerator in the world”—due to a mother with an affinity for stinky cheeses. His first job? A pickle factory, ”sorting out the gherkins from the dills from the little treats.”
He repeated the importance of knowing not merely WHAT is on your plate, but WHO is on your plate. If you are eating a farmstead cheese, you are enjoying the complete commitment of someone who might be waking up to milk goats at five in the morning, again at five in the evening, and doing that ten months a year. You are enjoying the work of someone dedicated to tending dozens, if not hundreds, of living animals, all of whom need to be fed, watered, herded, bred (or not), and loved. As he puts it, ”Someone committed themselves to hell to bring you that cheese. So next time you have a piece of farmstead cheese, enjoy it.”
To reiterate the definition of farmstead cheese, as opposed to artisanal or specialty cheese, the dairy uses only the milk of animals on that farm. So the farmer is committed to the care of the animals and a manageable volume of cheese. Farmstead cheeses are rarer than others.
Wil is amazed at the disconnect that people have with their food. Like, no idea where in the world it came from, or how it got to the store. Some of the questions he's fielded—from adults—when giving tours of the farm:
“Do you kill the goats for their milk?”
“Do you milk the male goats?”
And his favorite: “What part of the goat do you use for the cheese?”
Alex spoke about the four things that go into making a wine, good or bad.
1. NATURE: the genetics of the grape, its skin color, thickness, etcetera.
2. NURTURE: the right environment for that grape—hot, cold, rocky, you name it.
3. MENTORING: bringing the grape's true essence forth, like a good teacher who doesn't instruct, but who lets a student find out for herself, gee, yes, I'm a writer.
4. SERVICE AND STORAGE: okay, he called this "good haircut/bad haircut." You get the point. Much as Wil called farmstead cheesemakers "caretakers of the milk," so is a good winemaker the caretaker of the grapes.
There was more knowledge passed back and forth between Wil and Alex than I can begin to report here. Three hours of really intelligent discussion: history, stories, historic anecdotes, trivia (wines in Italy are named for the feelings they invoke, such as "tongue splitter" and "gunpowder"), and a lot of good-natured joking.
These are the wine/cheese pairings we enjoyed (and you can see an interactive cheese plate by Pengrin here--great work, Penny!):
Three Harley Farms cheeses:
1. Fromage Blanc, inside a goat less than a week ago. Served with Zardetto “Zeta” Brut, Prosecco di Conegliano, Veneto (Italy), 2004.
2. Van Goat (chevre with basil and sunflowers). Served with Verdejo/Sauvignon Blanc, Vina Sila “Las Brisas,” Rueda (Spain), 2005. (This is the cheese that made the I-thought-she-was-so-demure Ms. Jeffrey start to moan and rock back and forth. Okay, I was moaning like a porn star, too, but we were not alone.)
3. Cranberry Walnut (chevre). Served with Pinot Noir (Rosé), Lucia “Lucy,” Santa Lucia Highlands, 2005. (This was one of my favorite wines.)
Other Farmstead Cheeses
4. Redwood Hills Crottin, pasteurized goat's milk. Served with Gamay, Chateau de Jacques, Moulin-a-Vent (Beaujolais, France), 2004. I confess I enjoyed this one least: the wine had a flavor I can't pin down, a certain musky moldiness that did not taste like cherry pipe tobacco to me.
5. Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill, pasteurized cow's milk. Served with Chardonnay, Lico “Michaud,” Chalone (Monterey), 2005. This cheese was my “Dear God, now I can die” cheese. It was like eating butter made out of babies. It was the most unctuous, voluptuous, toothsome cheese.
6. Vermont Shepherd, raw sheep's milk. Also served with the chardonnay.
California Non-Farmstead Cheese
7. Andante Dairy Mélange, pasteurized cow and goat milk. Served with Zardetto “Zeta” Brut, Prosecco di Conegliano, Veneto (Italy), 2004.
Also on the table: slices of baguettes, fruit, water, orange blossom honey, cunning little forks and knives, and lots of stemware.
After consuming all this, or most of it, we went back into the kitchen where Wil was demonstrating The World's Easiest Cheese: whole milk ricotta. I like this picture on the right: he gestures quite a lot, and his passion comes out in these emphatic ways. The demonstration was easy, brief, and vastly entertaining and educational.
After straining and shaping the cheese, Wil led us back into the classroom, where yet another wine awaited us, to pair with this gorgeous, warm cheese. His suggestion was to use the ricotta in homemade ravioli, or even take a shortcut and use premade wonton wrappers. I can imagine adding a little fresh basil and thyme or marjoram, for something so delicious it would make your grandmother weep.
The Cheese School was started by Sara Vivenzio, a professional cheesemonger who left advertising to pursue what is an utter passion for cheese. She is doing things right, folks—the classes cost about $60, and that's three hours of fabulousness for $20/hour. (That's her on the far right in this imperfect group shot, and the vixenish Ms. Gagliardi on the far left. sorry, dawl, the other shots were completely out of focus in the ADD-addled Canon Powershot.)
Wil and Alex will certainly be working together again: their styles and the depth of their knowledge were complementary.
It was also such a pleasure to finally meet Catherine from Food Musings, after a lot of correspondence. And to meet Penny, the camera-brandishing blogger at Pengrin™ Eats. And food writer Jane Tunks, fellow enthusiast of "The Real Dirt on Farmer John." And Bruce Cole, whose lean and elegant prose I've admired from the git-go. (Bruce, it was bugging me all night long until I figured out who you look like. Dennis Miller if he ate a lot of Vitamin E and was a nice person instead of a rabid, mouth-foaming Neocon bodysnatcher.) And duh, I just figured out that “Davina” is the Davina I regularly used to read in Bay Area Bites. (She's working for Chow now.) Duhhhhhh. (Sorry for brain lapse, Davina. I do know who you are!)
Two wildly enthusiastic thumbs up for this splendid educational experience.
And just one more note of theramin music (oooooooWEEEEEEEEEooooooooo): I had a meeting with a client on Montgomery Street yesterday, and parked around the corner. I noticed something I'd never noticed in that neighborhood before: Myth restaurant. It was so beautiful, I made a mental note to Google it when I got home. I had completely forgotten that the winemaker was going to be from Myth. Cool.
Quick note: Check out Cheese By Hand's post, with her thoughts on artisanal, etcetera, cheeses.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “There are two types of people in the world: people
who are passionate about things, and people who've had their passion
punched, beaten, or whatever out of them.” — Kevyn Aucoin
Thanks for visiting.