Thursday, May 28, 2015

Willoughby and Barr Hill Gin

Let me tell you a little story...

I've been starting to flirt with the idea of pairing spirits and cheese. I know it's not a brand new idea, but it's taken a hold of me and I want to run with it. I knew that I couldn't start doing this with mass-produced factory spirits just like I couldn't start my cheese pairing/passion/business with American slices...

Because I don't have a large amount of money, I usually reserve my alcohol purchases to a reasonable 22oz bottle of beer or a 750ml of wine. I've found some gems and I've found some stinkers, but they're at least within my price range. The only "spirits" that I could find in my price range really cannot be rightfully be placed in the same category as artisan spirits. I think of them more like kerosene... Once my palette for cheese, beer and wine really began to blossom and I could recognize the subtle nuances of each type, I knew I was ready to attempt the "spirit-world" (pun absolutely intended).

(I promise I'm getting to the cheese soon!)

Firstly, I have to give all credit to Mary Guiver for teaching me how to properly enjoy spirits. It's not just there for a shot - forgive me, this was my college experience - it's there for the enjoyment, just like any other beverage. Working with her for the short period that I did allowed me to start really trying and enjoying different spirits. I could easily point to which ones I cared for and which ones I would rather light on fire. Then, moving on to the Los Altos location gave me even more opportunity to try artisan spirits. We can't sample alcohol on the clock, but my schedule just so happens to fall into place where I get to participate in the active samplings done in my store once my shift is over. I've tried myriad amazing spirits and can't wait to experience more.

This is where I met Sarah Bryant, our incredibly passionate and fun Bay Area brand ambassador for Caledonia Spirits.

Sarah introduced me to the Caledonia Spirits company in Vermont that works very closely with the Vermont, Hardwick and Caledonia Country and the farmers/cheesemakers/dairy producers therein. Todd D. Hardie, the distiller at Caledonia Spirits, actually started off as a beekeeper for 49 years! Sarah even brought in a tub of Caledonia Spirits Raw Honey they produce. She mentioned that the distillery works very closely with Jasper Hill Creamery and I was immediately intrigued.

This is where the cheese comes in.. after talking to Sarah about how the cheeses produced at Jasper Hill Creamery were produced in the exact same area as the honey and spirits produced at Caledonia Spirits. I took this nugget and ran with it... I bought the Harbison and the Willoughby once I was able to procure some of the Barr Hill Gin and immediately went home to try...

*That's a sexy picture right there... I do have to say that I will only be speaking of the Willoughby today as I thought it was the best pairing and Harbison has made an appearance on my blog several times...*

Cheese: Willoughby
Original Producer: Marisa Mauro of Ploughgate Creamery
Current Producer: Jasper Hill Farm
Location: Greensboro Bend, VT
Milk: Pasteurized cow's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

As mentioned above, the Willoughby was originally created/produced by Marisa Mauro of Ploughgate Creamery. In 2010, there was a creamery fire that resulted in a stop in production of this cheese. Jasper Hill Creamery, with Marisa's blessing, has resurrected this fantastic cheese and is continuously developing the recipe.

The Willoughby is a delicious washed rind cheese that is surprisingly small, yet maintains a relatively firm paste - and by firm, I mean it doesn't immediately ooze all over the plate. You can actually cut and portion this cheese up until about 9 weeks after its production. What I find incredible about this cheese is how rich the paste is (buttery, fudgy, herbal) while having a very thin washed rind that adds the earth and the funk to the flavor of the cheese without completely overpowering everything else.

I literally could eat the Willoughby with a spoon on my couch without any accompaniment, but I was super eager to pair it with the Barr Hill Gin. The Barr Hill Gin from Caledonia Spirits is made with pure grain spirits with only juniper berry and raw northern honey - the honey being added just before bottling. By itself, the Barr Hill Gin is wonderfully flavorful and you really do get hints of the raw honey. I had it straight in the snifter when I first brought it home and was over the moon.

When I tried the Willoughby and the Barr Hill Gin together, well, I was speechless. I never knew there was such thing as terroir in spirits, but pairing those two items together from the exact same region in Vermont, it felt like I was transported to the Northeast Kingdom. Like I was standing in a field listening to the wind sway through the grass, the bees buzz and the cows moo in the distance. It was an incredible experience.

So incredible in that our dog, Joe, was looking at me longingly the entire time I ate the Willoughby and drank the Barr Hill Gin. I'm sure to a dog, the aromatics were wonderful....

Well, that was probably one of my longest blogs in a while and I apologize for being long-winded, but I think everyone should go out and try this pairing. Not every Whole Foods in our region carries spirits, so be sure to call and ask if they carry the Barr Hill Gin before visiting. If you see the Willoughby in any of our cheeses cases, don't hesitate to pick up a wheel (they're only 8 ounces).

If you happen to try this pairing, please let me know what you think! Feedback is welcome for all of my posts, but as I delve into a world less familiar, I'd love to hear your thoughts! You can comment below or email me at

Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Gorwydd Caerphilly

Hello everyone!

I hope your week is going well so far. Today I wanted to talk about a fun cheese we are featuring this month - the Gorwydd Caerphilly.

Cheese: Gorwydd Caerphilly (pronounced GOR-with CARE-fully)
Producer: Todd, Maugan and Kim Trethowan
Location: Llanddewi Brefi, Ceredigion in Wales
Milk: Raw cow's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

Todd Terthowan had originally studied archaeology before working for a stint at Neal's Yard Dairy. This is where he was bitten by the proverbial "cheese bug" and wanted to learn how to make cheese. He chose to learn to make Caerphilly as he had a Welsh Grandmother who had grown up right outside the town of Caerphilly and had made the cheese herself at one time. Todd learned how to make the Caerphilly from third generation Caerphilly maker, Chris Duckett, who was one of the few cheesemakers producing Caerphilly in the traditional manner on a farm. After spending 6 months with Chris, Todd returned to his parents' farm to start making the cheese himself.

In the making of the Caerphilly, the Terthowans get their milk from one supplier which gives them great control in the quality of the milk. They also just recently started using animal rennet to add to the complexity of the flavor. All I have to say is - good job! The cheese is beautiful and complex. I love the way the flavors are described in the DiBruno Brothers blog: (

"Bite #1: Begin by tasting the center; it’s all lemon sponge. This is the whitest part of the cheese and also the mildest. The texture is cakey, and the flavor calls to mind yogurt or crème fraiche — bright and milky.

Bite #2: Moving outward, you’ve got your gooey layer below the rind. It bulges a bit at room temperature and appears darker in color, with the same golden cast as a ripe Camembert. Take a nibble, and you’ll taste warm tones – sautéed mushrooms, roasted cauliflower.

Bite #3: On to the rind – which is edible. Here, you’ll taste earth, mushrooms, cave. Okay, it can be a little bitter, but that’s a good excuse to crack open some beer (try a citrusy ale or a dry cider).

Bite #4: Finally, eat all three layers together, and you’ll taste what makes cheese connoisseurs go crazy – a fracas of flavors and textures. It’s what makes this Caerphilly so special. A combination of light and dark, mild and wild, heavenly and earthly."

I couldn't have described it better myself!!

For the month of May, all NorCal/Reno Whole Foods Markets have the Gorwydd Caerphilly on promotion - so get some while you can! Be sure to ask for a sample, you won't be disappointed.

Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Snow Camp: Cheese From My North Carolina Adventures

Hello everyone!

I took the last couple of weeks off so I could travel around Napa, San Francisco and North Carolina with Lynn. It was a wonderful getaway. I figured that since I was on the other coast, I could talk about a cheese that was local to where I was. In this case, I chose the Snow Cap from Goat Lady Dairy.

Cheese: Snow Camp
Producer: Goat Lady Dairy
Location: Climax, NC
Milk: Pasteurized cow and goat's milk
Rennet: Vegetarian 

One of my friends and past Official Conference Cheesemongers from the ACS Conference - Alexander Kast actually works at Goat Lady Dairy. But, every time I had seen him sampling their cheeses at various events, I hadn't been able to stop and taste their selection. I was really excited when I realized that I was close to their creamery and their cheeses were readily available at the Greensboro and Chapel Hill Whole Foods Markets. After looking over the selection and talking with the cheesemongers behind the counter at Whole Foods, the Snow Camp is the cheese I decided to feature.

What a sexy looking cheese! Right when I cut into it, the paste - or shall I say goo - oozed out onto the plate. The aroma of this cheese was very pleasant - with hints of mushroom and earth - nothing really over the top. The wheel I cut into was the at the perfect age in my opinion, with the rind being the structure holding the divine gooey paste inside. The flavor is a perfect balance with the cow and goat's milk. The cow's milk has the buttery, creamy, unctuous quality while the goat's milk gives a nice gamey, tangy touch of barnyard to balance out the richness. Such an amazing cheese! I wish I could get it more readily on the West Coast!

I decided to take it one step further since I was in North Carolina and pair the Snow Camp with a local beer. I decided to go with the Foothills Brewing People's Porter from Winston Salem, NC. The toasty, malty quality of the porter really paired nicely with the buttery, tangy Snow Camp. It reminded me of having roasted marshmallows while camping... You really have to try it!

That's all I have for now... I hope you all have chance to try this pairing! Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Persillé du Malzieu

Hello everyone and happy tax day to all of my American readers!

Today started off a bit crazy for me as I was one of the thousands of Americans running frantically to the Post Office to make sure my taxes went out on time. Glad that's over!

It was nice coming in to work today as I found a much awaited treat from France - the Persillé du Malzieu.

Cheese: Persillé du Malzieu
Affineur: Hervé Mons
Location: Produced by a cooperative in Malzieu Ville, France
Milk: Pasteurized sheep's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

This particular cheese was recommended to me by a customer. He said that he had had it at a different Whole Foods Market location and that we should bring it in. I asked my buyer very nicely to bring it in so we could try it. After waiting 8 weeks (that's how long it takes to get cheese shipped from France), it's finally here! I was very excited to try some. 

As I crumbled a little piece off I could see that there was a lot of mold present, which means more flavor! The smell wasn't particularly strong, but the taste... oh, the taste. Strong and spicy with a nice salty, creamy balance. It walks a thin line of being too potent, but the balance in the cheese makes it amazing. 

I love how Murray's cheese shop describes this cheese: "Spice is the variety of life, which is why we hunger for this rare, powerfully spicy blue. Produced just beyond the legally protected limits of Roquefort, this cheese is made of Lacaune sheep milk, like it's more famous neighbor, but captures a far greater flavor spectrum. Texturally, Malzieu sits heavy on the tongue, only to dissolve into a milky skim within seconds. The threat of excess salt, razing sharpness, and intense moldiness is present but always at bay. Beautifully balanced with rich, fatty milk, mushroom, and a long sweetness that should be complemented by a rich, oily dessert wine such as Sauternes or tawny Port." 

The other difference between the Persillé du Malzieu and Roquefort is that Persillé du Malzieu is made with pasteurized sheep's milk instead of raw sheep's milk. For those folks who prefer their cheeses pasteurized, this is a great alternative. But if you're not keen on blue cheeses, I would recommend steering clear of this blue "giant". Lots of delicious flavor, but really quite strong.

If you'd like to try a piece, come on by the Whole Foods Market in Los Altos where we just freshly cut a wheel of this delectable cheese. I hope to see you all soon. Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Mediterranean Raclette

Hello everyone!

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter and/or Passover. I've been busily planning my wedding as well as working with Business Insider on an article called: "What it's REALLY like to work at Whole Foods". If you're interested, you can find the link here:

I was very honored that I was asked to do this interview and I'm really pleased with how it turned out. A HUGE thank you to all of my loyal readers who have helped make this blog what it is today.

Today I wanted to talk about the Mediterranean Raclette from Emmi Roth USA.

Cheese: Mediterranean Raclette
Producer: Emmi Roth USA
Location: Monroe, WI
Milk: Pasteurized cow's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

The flavored cheeses are not cheeses I typically blog about. But, I am always impressed with the innovations the folks at Emmi Roth come up with for traditional recipes of cheeses - in this case, Raclette. Besides the Mediterranean Raclette, they also have a Roasted Garlic Raclette and a 5 Peppercorn Raclette. I have had the opportunity to try them all at ACS Conferences past and boy oy boy, are they delicious.

We just recently received the Mediterranean Raclette at our cheese counter and I decided to try it just on its own, without being melted. This version of the Raclette has a tomato basil garlic mix, sundried tomato and black olives. I was a little nervous about the black olives at first, but they added a nice tangy acidity without being overly salty. The paste was very smooth and creamy, not as "stinky" as some of the other Raclettes I have had. Needless to say, this cheese is AMAZING melted. Whether you use a Raclette machine, or if you just melt it into your pasta, you will thoroughly enjoy this cheese.

Two of my rockstar team members, Ernest and Ian, both enjoyed the tasting of the Mediterranean Raclette as well. The folks at Emmi Roth USA recommend that you pair this cheese with olives and peppadews, a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, or a Lager or Pilsner. All of these pairings sounds very appealing...

The Mediterranean Raclette is on sale for the month of April, so if you want to have a little fun with melted cheese, come pick up a wedge! I hope you all have a wonderful week. Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!

Friday, March 27, 2015

São Jorge DOP

Good day fellow cheese people!

Today I've decided to talk about a Portuguese DOP status cheese, the São Jorge. Almost two years ago to the day, I wrote about the St. George from Matos Cheese Factory which is a local version of the São Jorge. You can flashback to my old blogpost on the St. George here:

I find it a very fun coincidence that I am now writing about the original, which is an outstanding cheese deserving of emulation. And here we go!

Cheese: São Jorge
Region: São Jorge Island, Azores, Portugal
Milk: Raw cow's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

As its name implies, the cheese is made on the island of São Jorge in Portugal. The climate and soil on this island are ideal for dairying (the island has over 20,000 cows!), so the long tradition of cheesemaking makes total sense. The cows are milked twice a day and a right after each milking, cheesemaking commences. The evening milk is delivered around 8:30pm and the cheesemaking starts then and lasts until about 4am. That's dedication!

This cheese really embodies the characteristics of raw milk. You get the tangy, piquant acidity which is classic in raw milk cheeses, but you also get a wonderful creamy finish. If you're a fan of the "sharp" in sharp cheddar, you will adore this cheese. I find the paste to be quite fun as well. There are tiny eyes sprinkled all throughout leaving a cheese that reminds me of the surface of the moon!

Try this cheese with a nice crisp pilsner, or even a funky sour. But beware when trying this with a sour - depending on which one you choose, you may have a wonderful pairing or a "ouch" pairing with similar competing flavors. These are the types of experimental pairings that I like to try out on my own as I find some very unexpected gems in the mix.

We have this cheese on sale at my cheese counter and all other Northern California/Reno Whole Foods Market stores for just a few more days. Be sure to stop by your local store and try some out! Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Bellwether Farms San Andreas

Hello everyone!

Recently I've heard a lot of talk about earthquakes and when the next "big one" will hit. Thinking about earthquakes made me think of the San Andreas Fault, which led me to think about the cheese named after this active fault, the San Andreas from Bellwether Farms.

Cheese: San Andreas
Producer: Bellwether Farms
Location: Petaluma, CA
Milk: Raw sheep's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)

Bellwether Farms is a local creamery located in Petaluma, CA. They have been aging sheep's milk cheeses since 1992. Since then, they have branched out to cow's milk cheeses - like the Carmody and Crescenza - as well. They focus primarily on Italian style cheeses, but also make some decadent sheep's milk yogurt and other fresh products. I've honestly never met a Bellwether Farms product I didn't like.

The San Andreas is a Bellwether Farms evolution of the Pecorino Toscano. It's a touch drier, but has a wonderful creamy, nutty, and mellow flavor. You can tell after tasting this cheese that the cheesemakers at Bellwether Farms take great pride in the quality of their milk. The cheese is very straightforward with no "frills". The raw milk and natural rind really allow the flavor of this cheese to sing.

While tasting the San Andreas today, I was pleasantly surprised by the long finish. I found myself tasting the cheese long after I had swallowed my first bite. I would pair this cheese with a nice fruity Pinot Noir or Merlot. I would also consider using this cheese to kick my macaroni and cheese up a notch. 

If you'd like to swing by the cheese counter at the Whole Foods Market in Los Altos tomorrow, we not only have this magnificent cheese, but we also have all wines $14.99 and up on sale for 20% off! If you buy six or more bottles, you get a whopping 30% off!!! I'm personally buying at least six cases of wine for my wedding... so don't miss out! 

I hope to see many of you tomorrow! Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!