Monday, June 15, 2009

Cheesemonger Boot Camp!

Just back from a jam-packed 4 days of cheesemongering in Portland, and all I can say is WOW. This was the first event hosted by Food By Hand, the newest pet project of esteemed Heidi Yorkshire. She teamed up with Steve Jones of Steve's Cheese, and together they brought 15 of America's budding cheese geeks to the lovely city of Portland for a long weekend of cheese, cheese, and more cheese. It was a whirlwind of an event, and it's an understatement to say that it exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds.

We all arrived at Steve's Cheese on Wednesday afternoon to meet and greet, and of course, taste some cheese! That evening Steve treated us to a wine and cheese pairing, followed by one of his famous Farmstead dinners. I don't think any of us knew quite what to expect, but everything fell into place without a hitch as plate after glorious plate of cheese and charcuterie passed around the table. There were no less than 14 kinds of cheese, a good smattering of cured meats, and the flow of conversation quickly overtook that of the wine. Now that's the sign of a fantastic group. People ranged from those on a purely information seeking mission, to current cheesemongers, to wine experts and food brokers, and a few like myself who were gregariously looking forward to opening their own shops in the very near future. It was heaven.

The following days were packed with talk of business plans and taxes, business entities and legal matters, visits to a neighboring Portland cheese shop and local distribution warehouse, with regular intermissions for cheese tastings. Steve let us run rampant in his tiny outfit, and we regularly sampled from the counter, stuck our heads into the reach-in fridges, and got up close and personal with day to day operations. He sacrificed a quarter wedge of luscious Comte for our slicing and wrapping pleasure, and showed us how to deal with soft molds, cheese mites, and a dozen other little intricacies of general cheese care. My head was reeling on a constant protein high and so much information to take in.

I have to take a minute here to wax poetic over the amazing personalities who took us by the hand through this adventure. Steve himself is just the most friendly, easygoing, down-to-earth character, and that is what I want to see more of (myself included of course) in contemporary cheesemongers. He was just an open book about everything that he's learned in his experience, and the willingness to share all of it was a huge comfort. Heidi Yorkshire is just a card; she's got that great dry humor that I love, and her jokes never conceal her intense level of knowledge in the industry. It was clear from the get-go that we were being taught by experts in this field.

The rest may take another post, since just this much is like a longwinded manifesto of my love of cheese, blah blah blah. I will continue to regale you readers tomorrow.

signing off - vive la fromage!

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