To Discover My Inner Cheesemonger: Parte Un
I'm on a quest to discover my inner cheesemonger. Why? Because I feel like I'm culture's version of Emile, Remy's unsophisticated brother in the Disney Pixar movie Ratatouille, and I will have it no longer. If you haven't seen the film yet, here's a short video clip to demonstrate my current state of cheese illiteracy:
I want to become Remy, the savant, the connoisseur, the little mouse who places a morsel on his tongue and colorful swirls and pops of flavor appear about his head. See for yourself:
So I, wannabe Remy, will enlist the help of local cheesemongers of the Sacramento region to help me discover what the love of cheese is all about.
First stop: Lise Smidth of the Davis Food Co-op.
Lise works in the cheese department of the Davis Food Co-op which, in my opinion, has an impressive-looking collection of artisan cheeses from the small town next door to all over the world. When asked about her love of cheese and how it had started, she told me a nostalgic story with a faraway look in her eyes.
“I always had loved cheese. I grew up in Denmark where cheese was such an important part of the diet. Like, for breakfast and lunch, people here have peanut butter on sandwiches. Us, we had cheese. With pumpernickel, a little bit of green peppers, or radishes…with a nice layer of butter underneath.”
So for Lise, cheese is a meal. She’s used to fresh cheese, made with good milk from the happy cow nearby that supplied it. Coming to America, she noticed that people only had “nibbles of cheese” here and there—as part of a pairing with wine, a string cheese accompaniment in a lunch pail, a cheddar slice in a hamburger, or a melty layer in a pizza.
Standing behind the cheese counter at the Co-op excites Lise because the stuff in front of her is the real deal. It stands apart from the plasticky yellow square a lot of us have unfortunately grown accustomed too. The cheese she gets to recommend is local, sustainable, and slightly reminiscent of the Danish, fromage-centric meals she’d been raised with.
Needless to say, my line of vision was flickering between Lise and all of the glorious cheeses. Hi cheese. Get in my belly.
First in line is a small chunk of North Valley Farm herbed chevre. I did what Lise advised and placed it on my tongue, savoring it rather than gulping it down with a side of tomato sauce and crust. The taste was, well, a world apart from the unfortunate goat cheese I attempted to make in my second blog post. I thought: nom nom. Lise said, “creamy creamy”. (She kindly recommended the Co-op’s cheese bible, the Atlas of American Artisan Cheese by Jeffrey P. Roberts, after I said “mm, delicious” one too many times.)
Feeling a little risky at that point, I asked Lise if she would let me taste something, well, risky for my inexperienced taste buds. She brought out a pungent hunk of Central Formaggio Moliterno, a truffle-embedded hard sheepsmilk cheese that just about knocked my socks off. To Lise, the cheese “reminds [her] of chocolate” but as for me, I don’t think I’m ready for that kind of flavor yet. Next!
The final cheese I tasted quickly became my favorite: gouda from Winters Cheese Company, located just a few miles from the Davis Co-op. The slice Lise handed me was so very exquisite—creamy and soft with a lasting buttery finish. Oh my cheese heavens now I’ve gotten myself thinking about it. I’m going back tomorrow for more.
The more cheese you taste, the more you will like it. But not too much. Because you will probably die.” – Lise Smidth