Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In loving memory of Daphne

It has been forever and a day since I've updated this blog, and I have many tales to tell (which I promise will happen as well as more regular updates from here on in), but tonight I want to say add my small piece about the amazing, much loved and much missed, Daphne Zepos

As many of you may know, the cheese world lost an incredible person a few weeks back.  Daphne was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and passed only weeks later at the young age of 52.  So many of us who work in cheese were touched by her, and though I didn't know her nearly as intimately as so many others, I feel the need to share my encounters with this whirlwind of a Greek Wonder Woman.

I was introduced to Daphne in 2009, when she hosted a seminar at the Seattle Cheese Festival about the history of cheesemongering.  At the time, I was deep in the throes of research, and had heard that she was one of the most vibrant experts in the industry.  That in no way prepared me for the experience of listening to her share her deep knowledge on the subject, and I was a crazed fan of her five minutes into this session. I will never forget listening to her tell the story of how Camembert changed cheese forever once it was transported in those adorable little wooden boxes, then minutes later share how much she loved cheesemongers' tattoos.  I was completely enamored of her, and as I waited my turn to shake her hand and introduce myself after the seminar, I knew that this was a woman I needed to get as close to as possible.

The more I learned about the cheese scene and figured out the Who's Who of our industry, the more I realized how much of an influence Daphne had on all of us, whether we knew it or not.  Her teachings were just part of the immense bandwidth she had to help boost the booming cheese industry I was just becoming a part of. I attended another session of hers in 2010, again at Seattle Cheese Fest, about Transhumance.  Again I was blown away by the depth of knowledge this one person had to share; she made me look at some of my most beloved Alpine cheeses in a way that made me feel like I was tasting them for the first time all over again. After the seminar I rushed to greet her, this time with a business card in tow, hoping to lure her up the hill to my shop for a visit.  She was rushed (as she always was), and said "Yees yees, give me your card", and with that she was off in a flurry.  I was disappointed and felt like one of the many faces she may never recognize, but I still loved her and looked up to her with reverence akin to my childhood self adoring the Easter Bunny.

Just a few months later ACS was held in Seattle, and my baby of a cheese shop was on display for so many discerning eyes and opinions.  I was honored by visits from many fromager's who I'd looked up to for years, and while I soaked up every bit of praise and constructive criticism I received from each and every one of them, I knew that I had to get Daphne in the shop.  One afternoon I had the pleasure of spending some idle time chatting with Debra Dickerson of Cowgirl Creamery, another grande dame of the cheese world.  While we were talking, Daphne came speeding by, and this time I wasn't about to let her out of my path without making an impression.  I ran right up to her with a handshake and a card, and halfway through my introduction she looked me solidly in the eye and said "Yees, I know who you are!"  She grasped both my hands in hers and gave me one of her awesome smiles.  I blathered at her and Debra that they both needed to walk the few blocks from the hotel to visit my shop pretty pretty please and I'm so sorry but I have to get back to my staff.  Debra was exhausted but promised to try, Daphne smiled and nodded.

I rushed back to a very busy shop, telling my staff (who know of her well) that she probably wouldn't make it but I was so happy to have finally made an impression on her.  We were slammed for a bit, and I just as my heart started to sink a bit realizing that it'd been hours since I spoke with them, the rush cleared and there they were - Debra and Daphne, slightly out of breath but there, right at my counter. Debra came right up in her bubbly way to tell me how adorable the shop was, and I set to mongering her some of my local favorites.  Meanwhile Daphne stood a bit back, surveying the scene with a slight smile on her face, watching not me but my staff work their magic on our customers while I tended to Debra.  I was a bit worried that Daphne wasn't going to approach the counter at all, but after a few samples she joined Debra and I waxed poetic on the cheeses I loved so much from my large backyard that is the Pacific Northwest.  They enjoyed their samples, commented on how good the case looked and remarked on the adorable little wedges in our Hunka bowl.  I told Daphne, "That's how I teach them to wrap".  She gave me a beaming smile, and said "That is not all you teach them, your geerls are wonderful.  You have a bee-oootiful shop", to which I'm sure I turned bright red and thanked her greatly for. I offered to buy them a glass of wine at the bar next to me, but they were understandably beat and needed to get back to the hotel to unwind. I came around from the counter to hug Debra goodbye, and when I turned to Daphne she grasped both of my arms strongly, looked right into my eyes and told me congratulations for making such a lovely little shop.  "You will do very well, I can tell it."

So that was my experience of the great Daphne Zepos, but while my brief encounters with her were just that, the power she had to make me feel like I was doing something that extended far beyond a modest cheese counter is something I know many others have felt.  I am heartbroken that I didn't have more opportunities to spend time with her, but I am so grateful for those I did have.  She was a force to be reckoned with, and the legacy she leaves behind will live long and prosper in all of us who strive to do what we do in the name of cheese.

Here's to a hero, you were and will always be loved greatly.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tant de choses de fromage!

So many cheese things are happening!

I am already behind on my resolution to keep the blog more up-to-date, but better late than never, right? At least I have a good excuse, as I have been busier than a nest of bees scheduling events for the coming months. Without further adieu, here you go:

Cheese Classes
Last year's cheese classes were such a hit, we're scheduling several more this year.

Cheese 101
This crash-course in cheese knowledge is the perfect setting for anyone who loves cheese. You'll learn about the history of cheesemaking, properties of different milk types, and the various styles of cheese, all while tasting a comprehensive plate comprised of 12-14 samples. Bring your appetite and get ready to mange!

$35 per person

Sunday February 19th 6-8 pm
Sunday March 18th 6-8 pm

Reserve your seats in person at the shop or give a call at 206.467.5447

Farm Visits

Ever wonder what it takes to make the amazing cheeses we enjoy so much? Join us for a fieldtrip to a local creamery where you'll get to meet the people and animals that work so hard to keep our tastebuds happy. On these day trips we'll convene at the shop to embark on a day trip to a nearby local farm. You'll have transportation to and from the farm, a lunch featuring cheeses from the creamery, and best of all, lots of time to play with baby animals! These family-friendly events are great for people of all ages (children 6 and over please).

$65 per person includes transportation to and from the Melrose Market, a tour of the farm with plenty of time to chat with the cheesemakers, lunch and refreshments, and a polaroid of you with your favorite animal.

Seats are limited and pre-paid. Please make your reservations at the shop or call us at 206.467.5447.

Yarmuth Farms
Two dates:
Saturday February 25th 10 am - 4 pm
Saturday March 10th 10 am - 4 pm

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Very Special Gift

I am absolutely giddy with excitement as I type this, because a project that I've been working on for several months has finally come to fruition: the first annual 2012 Pacific Northwest Cheese Calendar!

I have had to keep this completely under my hat for fear that it wouldn't come together in time, which has been very difficult to do because I'm terrible at keeping secrets. This calendar is so much more than just a dozen pretty pictures (though the pictures are exceptionally pretty), it is one small way of me achieving my grand goal of the entire shop: to foster the connection between local cheese makers and farmers, and the people who love their products.

I knew I wanted the calendar to profit someone other then myself/my business, but I wasn't sure in what way, or two whom. Over the course of the past year many young people have come my way, expressing their want to become a small cheese maker, wondering where they could intern to hone their craft. I have been surprised and amazed by these people, and knowing there are many more of them I thought long and hard about how I could best represent the new generation of small cheese makers and farmers, while giving a much deserved homage to those who have laid the track for them.

I contacted Rick and Lora Lea Misterly of Quillisascut Farm up in Rice, WA, for help on this project. They were incredibly receptive to my idea, and I am both proud and humbled by the opportunity to showcase their goods, along with exemplary cheeses from all over our region.
All profits from sales of this calendar will go into a fund to provide scholarships for those eager to dive into the small farming community at one of Quillisascut's reputable Farm School courses

It was a difficult task to choose only 12 cheese makers from this area. I tried very hard to cover a relative gamut of PNW cheese, and I did rely heavily on what was available for photography at the time. However, I know there are dozens not represented. I see this project continuing yearly, showcasing a different set of cheese makers each year.

I owe many thanks to fellow cheese and animal lover Charity Lynne of Charity Lynne Photography. She donated her time and incredibly beautiful photographs for the calendar.
Also great thanks to all the cheese makers for doing what you do, every day, to make our lives a little more incredible through your cheese.

You can pick up a copy of the calendar at the shop. We'll see you soon!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Time Warp

I cannot believe it's already December! The holidays thus far have flown by, and were awesome thanks to everyone who came to the shop for Thanksgiving cheeses. We broke last year's record by hundreds!

For the next month we have a lot of exciting things in the cheese hopper, and for the sake of brevity:

Book Signing with Kurt Timmermeister of 'Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live off the Land'

Saturday, December 10th 11 - 2

You all know and love Dinah's cheese, now you have a chance to meet the man behind the curd! Kurt will be signing copies of his book, and in honor of this event we'll have a special: buy a copy of Kurt's book and get a wheel of his Dinah's cheese for $10!

Cheese Classes
By popular demand, we are now scheduling cheese classes for 2012. We will be offering Cheese 101 on a monthly basis starting in January, and a few specialty cheese tasting courses DTA. You can purchase seats for these classes as a gift for your fellow curd nerds. Just ask when you're in the shop or give us a call at 206.467.5447.

Holiday Cheese Selections
Need the perfect gift for your host/hostess? Or maybe you just want to leave your cheese in our hands? We're here for you with a wonderful selection of 4 cheeses along with the perfect accompaniments of Marcona almonds and Fig jam. These are available for $50 pre-paid, to be picked up on your specified date.

And as always, we will be eager to help you make the perfect holiday cheese platter. See you soon!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I have a thing or two to say about "affinage"

As you may have already read, or heard, the New York Times posted a very poignant piece about the art of caring for cheese before it is ready for retail sale, or, "affinage".
You can read it for yourself here.
The piece focused on the few retailers in the U.S. who have the monetary and spacial bandwidth to truly give cheese proper storage where it may ripen to that perfect point at which it should be sold. If you can do that, and do it properly, great. I commend you. However, most cheese shops in this country are not that position, and I'm taking a moment to talk about the vast difference between those of us in the cheesemongering industry.

This subject of this piece is prime for the spotlight, as is anything that makes an already specialty food even more 'special'. What pinched my tits about this was the fact that this minor slice of journalism may give consumers the illusion that in order to be a reputable retailer you should have a 'cave', housing an unbeknowst cache of cheese that you are caring for behind the lines of your retail space. The retailers interviewed for this piece are among the very few, the rarest, of cheesemongers in the U.S. The truth is that most cheese bought in this country is from grocery stores, specialty food shops, co-ops, and independent cheese purveyors.

Consider the idea of 'affinage' in a strictly retail space, such as my own. I take in cheese as it is given to me by my distributor, importer, or directly from the cheese maker. I can assess it at it's time of arrival, and go from there. I am very limited in what I can do to a cheese once it's arrived in my shop, but I do what I can.

For example, I receive bloomy rind cheeses at various stages of ripeness. Some are ready to go, so we push them to make sure they are sold when they're at that awesome place of almost falling out of their rind. Others are still chalky in the middle, not yet ripe, so I will let them sit in my industrial fridge until they are at a point of ripeness where I feel confident selling them to my customers. Mind you, letting cheese sit in my backstock is not 'ageing', it is not an ideal environment for cheese to age, however that is what I have available. Likewise, I sometimes I get aged wheels that may arrive sweaty and a tad moldy. I brush them, let them breathe for a day before giving them a vinegar/salt rub, then let them dry for a day before cutting into them. I also keep dozens of other cheeses in my case that may require daily TLC, but I have never considered myself an 'affineur', I am just doing my job as a cheesemonger.

I wholeheartedly respect (the job of) the affineur. I spent many hours brushing and turning wheel after wheel of cheese during a summer internship, and my short stint in and out of the cave was enough to make me fully realize the immense amount of work that goes into making even one wheel of cheese.

To me 'affinage' is what the cheese makers, and/or their care-givers do to make sure their cheeses are prime and ready for retail. Retailers, or cheesmongers, do their best to make sure the product(s) they receive are in the best shape possible. And that is that.

Monday, October 3, 2011

American Cheese Month!

Yep, you read it right, October is the first annual American Cheese Month. Thanks to the powers that be of The American Cheese Society and Beecher's Cheese, American cheese is the highlight of Fall!

We are participating in a program spearheaded by Beecher's own Kurt Dammeier. For the month of October, you can purchase a Passport for $10 (proceeds go to the American Cheese Education Fund), and every day indulge in one selected American cheese for 40% off the retail price. How cool is that? Even better, get a passport at our shop or at Beechers, and partake of daily featured cheeses in both places each day.

You can find out our daily selection via our Facebook page or Twitter.

31 days, 31 cheeses.

Work it!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I blinked and then everything happened

Bloody Hell!

That's about all I can muster for the fact that I have neglected this blog for such a long time. I know I have readers who are, and have been, waiting for the next exciting installment of "The Life of a Newborn Cheesemonger".

If only we had missionaries, who would devote their lives to spreading the gospel of cheese....

Consider me back, if only for a moment. I promise I will not be that shitty blind date who promises to call you but you never hear from. And I will bring cheese.