12 November 2010
I am sitting here in my apartment at the most gorgeous Agriturismo in a very underdeveloped part of Tuscany, wondering how I got here. What exactly have I done right? On the coffee table in front of me is an array of chocolate bars from the Stainer factory, just minutes from here, all mine for the tasting. I have officially been a food writer for three days, and there are enough top-tier chocolates on this table to impress even the most discerning of tastes for the finer things. And I mean FINE. In case you are wondering…Yes, it’s good to be Queen.
I thought the saying goes- "Don't name what you are going to eat". (Most) farmers who raise pigs, cows, or chickens for food wouldn't name them Daffy, Henrietta, Bessie or any other proper name for the fact that they are a food source and not a pet: a situation in which emotional attachments are difficult (not to offend any vegetarians or pet cow owners). Cheese seems to break this rule. Some will argue that cheese is a living thing (or a slowly dying thing) and therefore one must care for it from inoculation through maturation- correct? With names like Pierre Robert, Dafne, Rupert, or Moses I wonder how far these emotional attachments go with the cheese and its 'maker'.
11 November 2010
I bounced out of bed this morning, completely primed for some serious fun in town: a visit to the local cheese farmer. Trying to fight the urge to pre-write my fantasy visit to the enchanted, I followed Cornelia to La Tavolata, the restaurant at Podere Conti, the agriturismo I will call home for the coming week. I trotted along behind her like a happy puppy at her heels. Of course, morning coffee will never be the same after this morning’s doppio espresso. Add that to the list of “I never want to leave because of…”s.
I was interested to read the recent listing in the WSJ of their top ten cheese shops. Somewhat surprisingly, every single one is located in Europe, which I can’t help feeling shows remarkable lack of imagination, let alone knowledge of some of the fantastic cheese stores also to be found in the US, many of which have been in operation for well over a decade. (Mental note here to compile a list of my own.)
Although I haven’t been to all the cheese shops in the WSJ (give me time!), I do know a few of them and worked for several years at one of them. So here’s my personal run-down of some of those mentioned. For Poncelet in Madrid, we wrote a piece about their store in the June 2009 issue of culture. You can read the article here http://culturecheesemag.com/poncelet_madrid
L’Amuse - Netherlands
Paradise Found at European Big-Box Store
09 November 2010, Massa, Tuscany, Italy Carrefour Marketplace
Big-Box stores make me ill, basically. Even the (sic) finest ones in the great U.S. of A. are either a conglomeration of the cheapest overproduced substitutes for nutrients, socially irresponsible acquisition or production, or politically-opportunistic disappointments for me... of course, I would assume that if you are reading Culture, you are privy to all of the above information, and more.
I am currently traveling in Italy, residing for the time being at an Agriturismo, or Agricultural Tourism farm. In this case, it is olive production, and I am here in the peak of the harvest. should the rain cease, I will be a part of said harvest, with my own hands and spirit. What a joy!
I happily work for (restaurant) people I both like and respect, but there’s a certain in-charge person at my workplace that I can’t bring myself to enjoy. The feeling is clearly mutual, and nary a day goes by without said PERSON telling me I’m an idiot (in one way or another), or whittling away at my self-respect with persistent condescension. Hmph. Curbing my rage and subsequent bitter responses is a great exercise in restraint. Luckily, interactions like the following, furnish me with all the vindication I need.
Me: Where is the goat cheese we use in our [blahblahblah] salad from?
Evil Powerful One: Vermont
Me: do you know who makes it?
Evil Powerful One: Laura Chenel
Me: Oh really? Thanks. (silent interior victory dance)
What is a “cheesemonger”?
I’ve been told by so many that they absolutely LOVE the term, that it is such a kick to read my title on my business card. Apart from the loveliness of the term, however, there is actually a straightforward meaning to this title.
I'd like to introduce Mary Quicke, of Quickes Traditional Farmhouse Cheeses in the UK. She's been generous enough to share the beautifully-written updates she sends from Devon, where her family has farmed for more than 450 years. —Will
MARY'S DAIRY DIARY - NOVEMBER 2010
November has dark evenings when we can still remember the light ones, leaves are whirling off the trees when we can remember the green of summer, and chilly when the wreckage of summer lies broken all around.
Remember when you were a kid, and how excited you were to find out you got to go to the zoo? Remember how thrilling it was to get to see all of those wild and sometimes scary, sometimes cute animals you had only read about in books? Well, that’s exactly how I felt as I spent the last 6 weeks interning at Jasper Hill Farm and Cellars in Greensboro, VT.
See, I’m a microbiologist, and for me, those wild and unseen animals are the microbes I’ve spent so many years studying.
The great thing about working behind a retail counter is that you never know who you’re going to meet.
Twelve years ago, while working for Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station, I struck up a friendship with Sean Thackrey, a well-regarded local figure, best known for his extraordinary winemaking abilities involving unusual grape varieties. In addition to creating a successful winemaking business, Sean has also amassed a world-class collection of antiquarian books and texts on wine production, the subject of which made for some lengthy and lively discussions between us.
These works, some of which pre-date medieval times, are extraordinary and, on a couple of occasions, he allowed me to spend a leisurely afternoon, gently looking though some of these volumes, wrestling with Latin and early French (wishing I’d paid more attention to both at school) and generally be awe-struck by the weight – both physical and informational - that these books represented.