Wednesday, October 1, 2014

American Cheese Month Begins!

Hello everyone,

Happy American Cheese Month!!!

October is one of my favorite months of the year for many reasons... I can start to wear turtlenecks and long sleeve shirts, Halloween and the Holidays are just around the corner, and it's a month that celebrates the wonders of American artisan cheese!!!

I'm celebrating American Cheese Month by enjoying some delicious Mt Tam over some yummy Apple crisps from Simple & Crisp topped with peach preserves... quite a treat!

If you want to know more about what American Cheese Month is all about and what other turophiles are doing to celebrate, you can visit these sites:


There are usually a lot of fun promotions going on at your local Whole Foods Market during this month as well. Look for the gold "ACS Winner" sticker to know who took ribbons home at this years American Cheese Society Conference in Sacramento.

During this same conference, 90 Whole Foods Market team members became brand new Certified Cheese Professionals!  Janet Fletcher (author of Cheese & Beer, Cheese & Wine, The Cheese Course and many more) even featured one of my colleagues in her latest Planet Cheese on her feelings of being one of the newly minted CCP's. See below:

Why the Big Smile?
Emailed October 1, 2014

Alison Martin

If your cheesemonger has a little broader smile these days, it could be because he or she has just passed the CCP exam. Like a bar exam for the cheese industry, the CCP (Certified Cheese Professional) quiz is a rigorous test of knowledge. Modeled loosely on programs like Master of Wine and Master Sommelier, the three-year-old credential encourages professionalism among the people who market and sell specialty cheese.

Alison Martin (above), an associate team leader for Whole Foods in Palo Alto, was one of several dozen company employees to sit for the grueling exam this summer. To learn more about her study regimen and how the experience has affected her work, I spoke to Alison by phone shortly after she learned that she had passed.

What was your studying strategy?
I got Max McCalman’s books—I already had your books [smart girl!]—and started reading everything I could. I would highlight passages and take notes. I repeated a lot of the knowledge to my family and friends, and the more I said it out loud, the more I got it.

Like what?
Like milk composition. The different compartments of a cow’s stomach and what they do. The average yield of milk per day from a cow versus a goat. I made a lot of flash cards.

Whole Foods put together weekly classes and webinars for us. They paid my application fee, test fee and traveling expenses. (Bravo, Whole Foods. The test fee is $500—prohibitive for the typical cheese-counter employee.) They also paid for me to go to Wisconsin and work at the Center for Dairy Research. I got to visit creameries there and a dairy farm. It was cool to see cheese making from start to finish.

What areas were the hardest for you?
Definitely the Old World cheeses that I haven’t been as exposed to. Remembering names of molds and enzymes. On our fridge at home, we have a picture of a cow cut in half so you can see the different stomach compartments. And on my desk at work, there’s a picture of the top breeds of dairy sheep, goats and cows, and a graph of the pH level in different cheeses.

What was the test like?
Really difficult. I went into it thinking that I knew everything. But some of the answers depended on your perspective. One question was what to do if you find mold on a cheese, and the choices were to give it a brine bath; cut the mold off and eat the rest; or throw the cheese away. That question haunted me because I didn’t know whether I was supposed to be the retailer, the consumer, the distributor or the cheese maker.

For another question, you had to put the cheeses in order from softest to hardest, but there was a cheese I had never heard of. When I left, I was pretty sure that I hadn’t passed, and I wasn’t sure what I would say to Whole Foods to let me take it again.

Are you a better cheesemonger for having done this?
I’m 100 percent more confident talking about cheese to customers. It has helped me with organizing our cheese case and even with organizing our walk-in, because I know more about how different parts of a refrigerator affect cheeses. Now we don’t put blue cheeses so close to the fan.

So what’s your ideal cheese platter? If you could take home any four cheeses from your case tonight, what would they be?
I always grab Piave. It’s been one of my personal favorites forever. It goes with beer and wine, red or white. I love Délice de Bourgogne. I tell customers if Brie and butter made a baby, this would be it. For a blue, I would choose Stilton or Bay Blue, and for a goat cheese I like Garrotxa because it’s not too gamy.

Any tips for shoppers on how to negotiate a cheese counter?
Don’t be intimidated by price. We can always cut cheese to a size that fits your budget.

Congratulations Ali and all other new Certified Cheese Professionals!!

And if that isn't enough, I recently heard some more exciting news. The Academie Opus Caseus is offering their first West Coast Seminar! It's called Cheese from Pasture to Plate and it looks like it's going to be super exciting! For more information, be sure to visit


You can also see the other courses offered by the Academie in France and Vermont at the same website. I've been trying to save up money to go and I can't wait until I can!

I know that this wasn't one of my usual blog posts, but I figured it would be as good of a time as any to get you all caught up in what's happening in the cheese world. I also wanted to be sure to let you all know that I will traveling abroad to Italy (Venice, Cinque Terre and Florence) for vacation as well as a wine/cheese training through Whole Foods Market. I'm super excited about this opportunity and can't wait to share my pictures and experiences with you all. I'm leaving this Friday and returning at towards the end of October, so you probably won't see much action on my blog during that time.

I hope you all don't miss me too much, *giggle*. I wish you all delicious cheese, luscious libations and incredible company in the time that I'm away.

Until next time, eat drink and be happy!!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Get Roquefort While You Can!

Hello loyal readers,

I hope you all had an amazing weekend! My weekend was full of cheesy events, so I had a blast!

If you've been following cheese news recently you are aware that several cheeses are having a hard time getting into the country due to stricter FDA regulations. The American Cheese Society and the FDA are in discussion trying to get these over the top regulations back to more reasonable levels, but that probably won't happen for a while. In the meantime, many delicious cheeses are being refused at our ports....

Roquefort, the well known blue cheese from France, is unfortunately caught in this crossfire. I was looking back at some of my older blog posts and I actually had posted about Roquefort on my fourth post ever! If you want to see my amateur post on Roquefort, you can see it here:

Luckily for me, I am still able to get my hands on some Roquefort from Gabriel Coulet - and it's 100% organic!

Cheese: Roquefort
Producer: Gabriel Coulet
Location: Rouerge, France
Milk: Raw sheep's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

Roquefort is deliciously tangy, creamy and a touch salty. I'm going to plagiarize myself very quickly and take the description of Roquefort from my original blog post:

"Roquefort is a very special cheese in that it was the first cheese to receive AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) in 1925. This means that the name "Roquefort" is protected and in order for a cheese to be called Roquefort it needs to follow very specific guidelines. The milk must be raw and must be the milk of the Lacaune ewes that are raised within a specific area in France. The cheeses must be aged in the caves of Combalou for a minimum of three months and the mold used must be produced in the caves themselves. The way that the cheesemakers get the mold for Roquefort is that they leave bread in the caves and allow them to get moldy. The mold formed is the Penicillium roqueforti which is naturally occurring in the air in the caves. Once the bread gets moldy, they scrape the mold off of the bread and add it to the milk they will use to make this cheese! By using bread to produce the mold it is recommended that those who are gluten intolerant avoid this cheese."

I featured the Roquefort on a cheese plate I built the other day (pictured above) and used fresh figs as a complimentary pairing. I don't know about you, but I love figs and pretty much any blue cheese. It's fun to stuff the figs with the cheese and grill them or broil them in the oven.

I just recently was able to procure some more of this amazing cheese and it will be back in our stores for a short time at the beginning of October. Keep an eye out for it and enjoy it while you can. Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Heinrichsthaler Bierkäse

Good evening everyone,

I hope you're having a great start to your week. I was out last week with the flu, so I apologize for the delay in posting.

Today I would like to talk about a fun cheese that we currently have on promotion at all NorCal/Reno Whole Foods Markets - the Heinrichsthaler Bierkäse!

Cheese: Bierkäse
Producer: Heinrichsthaler
Location: Radeberg, Germany
Milk: Pasteurized cow's milk
Rennet: Microbial (vegetarian)

"Bierkäse" literally means "beer cheese" in German and is a fun seasonal cheese produced in time for Oktoberfest starting on September 20th. The curd is washed with beer and has little bits of onion mixed in. When I first cut into the cheese, the onion smell was very obvious, but not over the top. I was pleased when I took the first bite that I didn't taste only onion, but other nutty, creamy nuances as well. There isn't much of a beer flavor, but the addition of the beer to the curds add a fun twist as most "beer cheeses" I know have the rinds washed with beer instead of the curds.

In pairing this cheese, the obvious choice was a German beer. I was reminded by one of  my colleagues that we currently have a beer on promotion that is from the same place the cheese is from - Radeberg, Germany. Can you see the name? Should be relatively easy to remember - Radeberger.

We will only have this cheese for a limited time during the Oktoberfest season, so be sure to visit your local Whole Foods Market cheese counter. I stopped by the Whole Foods Market in Campbell today and visited one of our 20 newly minted Certified Cheese Professionals - Joe Buckle! If you're in the area, swing on by, he'd be happy to talk cheese with you. 

On that note, I'm off to enjoy what remains of the Bierkäse I purchased and polish it off with my glass of my Radeberger. Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Point Reyes Creamery Bay Blue

Good evening my fellow turophiles,

I hope you all had a festive Labor Day weekend and I also hope that all of the folks up in the Napa Valley that were affected by the earthquake two weeks ago are recovering well. I went up to the Napa Whole Foods store a few days after the quake and spent some time helping the team get the cheese counter back in working order. I was so glad that everyone was alright and that the store was able to bounce back quickly. As you can imagine, they lost a lot of product - including thousands of dollars of wine - but the important thing is that everyone is ok!

Today I wanted to dig a little deeper into the local cheese that won 2nd place Best in Show at this year's American Cheese Society Conference - the Point Reyes Bay Blue. I was so excited when I found out that they not only won 1st place in their category, but that they were recognized as the second best cheese out of all of the cheeses that were submitted!

Cheese: Bay Blue
Producer: Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company
Cheesemaker/Affineur: Kuba Hemmerling
Location: Point Reyes Station, CA
Milk: Pasteurized cow's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

When I first tried this cheese, I was absolutely blown away. I had never tried a blue cheese quite like this one.  It is aged for about 90 days and has a beautiful, natural rind. The flavor is creamy, piquant, caramel-ly, and fruity all at the same time. The mold is not over the top and adds great texture and crunch to the otherwise fudgy paste. Whether you're a blue fanatic, or not the biggest blue cheese fan, you more likely than not will fall in love with this cheese.

While helping out at the Napa store, I ended up helping cut and wrap blue cheeses and Bay Blue was one of them! You can see the freshly cut pieces in the picture above. YUM.

I recommend trying the Bay Blue with a nice dessert wine... I had some with a delicious Zinfandel Port the other night - absolutely scrumptious! You can also stuff figs or dates with the Bay Blue and eat them just like that, baked in the oven, or grilled. Any of those variations are to die for.

All in all, the Bay Blue is an amazing cheese and absolutely deserved the recognition it received at the 2014 ACS Conference. Congratulations Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company! We're proud to have you right in our backyard.

Bay Blue is available at most of the Whole Foods Market cheese counters in the Northern California - Reno region so be sure to swing by your local store and ask for a taste! Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bleating Heart's Shepherdista

Good morning everyone!

I hope you all are doing well and your week is wrapping up nicely.

One of the really cool things about working for Whole Foods is seeing how a large corporation can still give back to the local community and help smaller businesses flourish. It is in this spirit that in May, Whole Foods Market granted a "Local Producer Loan" to cheesemakers who are near and dear to my heart. The lucky recipients were husband and wife team, Seana Doughty and Dave Dalton from Bleating Heart Cheese.

Bleating Heart is located in Tomales, CA and their main focus is to produce top of the line cheese using milk from animals that have been treated humanely by the farmers and whose farm practices responsible stewardship of the land. As a result, the milk used in their cheeses is produced during the animals' natural lactation cycle. Cows have a cycle that lasts about 12 months, goats have a cycle that lasts about 10 months and sheep have a cycle that lasts 6-8 months. Keeping this in mind, you can see why many of the cheeses that Bleating Heart produces are only available on a seasonal basis.

Ok, on to the cheese! The cheese I'd like to talk about today is the Shepherdista - a combination of the words "shepherd" and "fashionista" - a delectable sheep's milk cheese.

Cheese: Shepherdista
Producer: Seana and Dave at Bleating Heart
Location: Tomales, CA
Milk: Raw sheep's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

The Shepherdista is a natural rind cheese where the cheesemakers allow the rind to develop on its own with the help of the molds and bacteria that are in the air surrounding the cheese. (I remember a year or so back, I attended a class that discussed molds/bacteria on the rinds of cheeses. Seana was there and we had the opportunity to look at the rinds of some of her cheeses under the microscope. It was incredible to see all these little flavors producers up close and personal!) The wheels are turned and patted every few days and are aged 60-90 days.

One of the most pleasant surprises for me with the Shepherdista was the "fudginess" of the paste in terms of consistency. It was incredibly smooth, with very few eyes and it coated the inside of my mouth similar to the way fudge does. Just on this alone, I can tell you that this would be an incredible melting cheese and you may consider using it on your next grilled cheese!

The flavor really highlighted the stereotypical characteristics of sheep's milk cheeses. A richer lactic flavor overall because of the higher fat content of sheep's milk with a touch of nutty, earthy, tangy goodness. Because of it's richness, I would pair the Shepherdista with something slightly acidic... think grapes, apples, Pinot Grigio or even a younger, lighter red wine.

As I stated before, this cheese is not always available due to the seasonality of the lactation cycles of the sheep. That being said, we have it currently in most of the Whole Foods Markets in Northern California and Reno. I know that the production is currently limited, so if you see this cheese at your local cheese counter, be sure to grab some for yourself!

That's all I have for now... until next time, eat, drink and be happy!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bermuda Triangle

Good evening everyone!
Today I want to talk about one of the ribbon winning cheeses from the ACS Conference a couple weeks ago. This cheese won 1st place in the Open Category of Soft Ripened Cheeses made from Goat's Milk. Drum roll please... the Bermuda Triangle from Cypress Grove!

Cheese: Bermuda Triangle
Producer: Mary Keehn of Cypress Grove
Location: Arcata, CA
Milk: Pasteurized goat's milk
Rennet: Microbial (vegetarian)

The original size of the Bermuda Triangle is a 1.5 pound triangle. The folks at Cypress Grove made a mini version specially for Whole Foods Market (in honor of the ACS Conference that took place) this month that weighs only 0.75 pounds. Because it is a smaller size, the cheese ripens and gets to the ooey gooey stage I love much quicker...

The Bermuda Triangle that I cut in to today was a bit on the young side. You can see in the picture above that it still crumbles very easily and the cream line close to the rind is still relatively firm. One of the distinguishing features of cheese from Cypress Grove is the use of vegetable ash. If you've ever eaten Humboldt Fog, you know what I'm talking about. When the cheese is first made, it is coated with vegetable ash and then during the ripening stages, develops the soft, bloomy rind on the outside. The result is an inner lining of ash right underneath the rind.

The flavor of the Bermuda Triangle is very clean, fresh and bright. The milk used to make this cheese is superb milk and as a result, you get a superb cheese. The ash doesn't impart much flavor besides making the cheese a touch more earthy while the rind adds a hint of mushroom. The textures of this cheese are really fun as well. The inner paste is crumbly and reminds me of a fresh chevre.The layer right underneath the rind is where the ripening is happening, so the paste here will be more broken down. As a result, that part of the cheese will have stronger flavor and be much softer. The last layer of bloomy rind and ash gives another dimension of texture in that it doesn't melt away like the rest of the cheese. You actually have to chew! One thing to note, the more ripe this cheese is, the stronger the flavor. I personally like a little age on the Bermuda Triangles, but the flavor may be too intense for some.

As you might have expected, we currently have the Bermuda Triangle on sale at the Whole Foods Markets in Northern California and we'd love you to join us in celebrating the folks at Cypress Grove's success. Stop by your closest cheese counter and try a sample!

A fun thing to note.. right after I finished tasting this cheese, I had a fresh cup of coffee. The residual flavors of the Bermuda Triangle really paired nicely with the bitterness of the coffee. It was like I had put cream in my coffee. Totally delicious. I had to go back for another bite.

I hope you all get the chance to try this incredible cheese in the near future. Until next time - eat, drink and be happy!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

American Cheese Society Conference 2014 Highlights

Good day!

As most of you are aware, the 2014 American Cheese Society Conference was held in Sacramento, CA last week - thus, my brief disappearance. But have no fear! I am back and armed with pictures!

Before I inundate you with my pictures, I want to send a huge shout out to the cheesemakers who won best in show!

1st Place Best in Show - Tarentaise Reserve made by the Farms for City Kids Foundation in Vermont

2nd Place Best in Show - Bay Blue made by Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company locally made in Point Reyes! (*This cheese is available at most Northern California Whole Foods Market cheese counters, so be sure to grab a piece while you can!*)

3rd Place Best in Show was a tie between - Aged Gouda made by Oakdale Cheese & Specialties in Oakdale, CA

and Eden from Sprout Creek Farm in New York

*Try as I might, I could not find the Eden at the Festival of Cheeses that day... I'm sorry Sprout Creek Farms! Congratulations regardless!!!*

Now on to some more fun pictures...

The Meet the Cheesemaker event was a hit like always!
Honeys and cheese from the honey and cheese pairing class I attended... Cheese clockwise from the top: Annabella Buffalo Milk Mozzarella, Marin French Triple Creme Brie, Vermont Creamery Coupole and Hook's "Ewe Calf to be Kidding" Blue
One of the coolest things I got to do at the Conference this year was be in charge of the set up of the Brunch of Champions. This is a place where all of the fresh cheeses and cultured milk products (yogurt, sour cream, mascarpone, ricotta, etc) are featured instead of sitting out for hours at the Festival of Cheese. Here are some pictures...

WONDERFUL volunteers helping me set up the brunch

So many butters!

Not to mention yogurt...

Throw some ricotta, creme fraiche and mascarpone and you're almost there!

Behold, the Brunch of Champions Fresh Cheese/Cultured Milk Products table!
That was so much fun. I hope that I'll be able to attend the Conference next year in Providence, RI and do it all over again!

And finally, the Festival of Cheese pictures... I put the Best of Show pictures at the top of this post, but here are some more...

Such a fabulous week! I hope you enjoyed these pictures. Look for my next blog post soon! There are some yummy ribbon winners out there that I want to feature... until next time, eat, drink and be happy!!