Saturday, July 25, 2009

If the Shoe Fits – “Connoisseur’s Cheese” Class

Could it really have been THREE MONTHS since our last class (our 23rd) at the Cheese School of San Francisco? When the schedule came out at the end of April for the Spring/Summer series of classes we had somehow failed to act.

When we realized a few weeks ago that we had let things slip, Alex, Cass and I looked over the schedule. Although there were understandably a number of classes that we had already taken, Sara Vincenzo who runs the Cheese School always does a good job of adding some new classes each term and we noted one entitled “Connoisseur’s Cheese” coming up in late July taught by Judy Creighton from whom we had taken two enjoyable classes in the past. Per the course description:

“As a true connoisseur, you know and love cheeses of all kinds. But maybe your taste buds have been lulled into sleepy complacency. For those who have the basics covered, this advanced class offers a tasting experience of what is truly extraordinary and rare in fine cheese with a discussion of how they get that way. These cheeses will take your senses to new heights with big bold flavors that are not for the faint of heart as well as delicate treasures that aren't easy to find in peak condition. Take your cheese love affair to the next level by diving into this distinctive connoisseur’s sampling from the finest cheese makers around the globe.”

Happily when we called the Cheese School there was still space available so we signed up. As the date approached it turned out Cass was going to have to be out of town that evening. However, we were able to fill Cass’ spot with our good friend Antonio.

Upon our arrival at the Cheese School the evening of the class we met Sara who was there for the pre-class reception, as well as Abby Ward, one of the School's Assistant Directors, and Karen Tran, a newcomer to the Cheese School staff. The gang was pouring the Keller Estate Chardonnay that was one of the wines for the class and while we waited for the class to start we had an enjoyable chat with the staff and also re-introduced ourselves to Judy Creighton.

Judy mentioned that she is living in Murphys (aka “The Queen of the Sierras”) in Calaveras County in the Sierra foothills, and encouraged us to come up to sample some of the wines offered by the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance [“20 wineries, 3 traffic lights“]. I came across a blog entry from Luscious Lushes which makes a trip there sound quite tempting, but I digress...

As the class description had indicated, the selection of cheeses for the evening was geographically wide-ranging (3 US, 3 Italy, 2 France, 1 England and 1 Australia) and of quite diverse types. The following were the ten cheeses we sampled:

1. “Yaquina Bay Pavé” from River’s Edge Chèvre [Three Ring Farm] – Logsden, Oregon - Goat

2. “Fior di Langa” from Caseificio dell'Alta Langa – Piemonte, Italy – Cow, goat & sheep

3. Sheep milk cheese from Sally Jackson – Oroville, Washington – Sheep

4. “Sunlight” from Haystack Mountain – Longmont, Colorado – Goat

5. “Caciotta di Bufala” [producer unknown] – Campania, Italy – Water buffalo

6. “Timanoix” from the Cistercian Abbey Notre Dame de Timadeuc and affineur (cheese ager) Pascal Beillevaire - Bréhan (Brittany), France – Cow

7. “Ogleshield” from Jamie Montgomery and Wayne Mitchell – Somerset, England – Cow

8. “Lagrein [Weinkäse]" [producer is a cooperative] – Alto Adige, Italy – Cow

9. “Signature Blue” from Tasmanian Heritage [National Foods] – Tasmania, Australia – Cow

10. “Bleu de Sassenage [Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage],” another aged by Pascal Beillevaire – Rhône-Alpes, France - Cow

They were paired with the following wines:

~ Chardonnay, “Oro de Plata” (2006) from Keller Estate in Sonoma, and

~ Südtiroler Lagrein, a red wine from Weingut Niklas [Niklaserhof] in Kaltern in the Alto Adige area of Italy.

We also enjoyed the standard wonderful range of accompaniments, bread, fresh and dried fruit, honey and some great pear jam from Blue Chair Fruit.

Our Favorites. At the end of the evening Judy asked us to rank our top three favorite cheeses and then took a poll. My top three were #1 Signature Blue, #2 Lagrein, and #3 Fior di Langa (although at least 4 others could have made it into my personal top 3), and that turned out to be the class consensus. Antonio went with the three Italian entries. It was one of the best overall selections of cheeses we have had a the Cheese School.

Japanese Beer and Australian Cheese. In researching the cheeses after the class I learned that National Foods, the Australian company that owns the Tasmanian Heritage brand under which Signature Blue is produced, is itself owned by Japan’s Kirin Brewing. Ah the joys of globalization (although if they continue to produce cheeses like that, I for one am not complaining).

Lagrein. Nancy and I are hoping for another trip to Italy in the near future, this time to the northeast, including the Trentino-Alto Adige region. I was very happy to find I really enjoyed both the Lagrein Weinkäse cheese (“weinkäse” means wine cheese in German, which is spoken as much as if not more than Italian in that northern area of the country) and the Lagrein wine. As the name suggests, the cheese is in fact soaked in Lagrein wine as part of the production process which gives the rind a deep red color. Hopefully the next time we try them together will be in Alto Adige!

As the above picture of Abby, Antonio, Karen and Alex suggests, we all had a good time at the class. Happily we have signed up for another class at the Cheese School for early August so we will not have so long to wait this time for our next visit.

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