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.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One Year

Holy amazingly fantastic curd-loving crap, in just two weeks we'll be celebrating our one year anniversary!

The realization that a year has already flown by is just as surreal as opening day was. Part of me is almost unaware of it, in the same sense that every day when I go into the shop, I'm not entirely absorbing the fact that I made this happen. I know people start new businesses every day, it's not like I'm curing cancer or anything, but it is still an accomplishment that I'm insanely proud of, and yet constantly humbled by. What I do is such a small part of the entirety of American artisan cheese, and I'm glad that I know so many local cheesemakers intimately enough to understand that by comparison, my job is a peach deal. They are the true laborers of their love; up and down before and after the sun, every day, no excuses; hours, days, months, even years spent finely tuning recipes and honing their craft. I feel blessed that I get to be a small part of that by means of bringing their goods to consumers. With every sample comes a small slice of knowledge about how that cheese came to be, and every time I can open someone's tastebuds to a new and different experience I'm reminded why I wanted to do this in the first place.

So year one, overall, kickass! I had realistic goals for the first 12 months: work out the kinks of day-to-day operations, get things running smoothly with a stellar team of cheesemongers under my wing, learn more and more and then some more about what I do every day, be profitable, and most importantly, keep people excited about cheese. Done and done. The icing on the cake are the things I hoped for but wasn't expecting: regulars from day one who come in and give me free reign to create a selection of whatever I'm in love with at the moment, visitors from all over who've followed my progress and made a point of introducing themselves in person and congratulating me for my newfound success, people asking for local cheeses by name after hearing of them elsewhere, making something as simple as cutting a new wheel of cheddar an event to behold. It is far beyond the dreams I had, and there is still so much more to look forward to.

Cheese classes are very popular, I'm so plussed at the enthusiastic turnout I've gotten so far from so many people who simply want to learn. You can expect many more of these in the coming months. Farm tours wound up being more of a logistical nightmare than I had expected, so they were tabled and I'm much better prepared to introduce that element next year. I am constantly on the hunt for new products from the Pacific Northwest and beyond, and there is nothing I love more than the flurry of hungry cheesehounds who descend upon the shop once I've posted an update about goods from a new creamery.

So I suppose I should be saying congratulations to you, Seattle, for helping me make this dream come true. Yes, I wax poetic, and it is warranted! If it weren't for the insanely white hot reception I've received from the Emerald city this year, who knows where I'd be right now? You all rule, thank you so much.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Exercising that cerebellum

A week ago I hosted my first Cheese Class: Cheese 101! This introductory class is one that I plan to host repeatedly as it covers the basics of cheese history, different milk types and their characteristics, ageing processes, and then a whole lotta cheese tasting.

I have a really difficult time narrowing down my selection when choosing cheeses for an event, and this was no exception. I decided to limit the very large plate to 14 cheeses that would cover seven basic styles of cheese: fresh, soft-ripened (cow/sheep), soft ripened (goat), washed rind, semi-firm, firm, and blue. For each type I chose one classic European cheese and one domestic, so people could taste an example of one cheese steeped in history and tradition, and then see what some of our amazing American cheesemakers are doing in the same style.

In general, the sold out crowd seemed to love it and I got a ton of wonderful feedback from everyone. But you don't have to take my word for it, two attendees wrote very lovely blog posts about the event, so big thanks to Judith Ramey and Leah of Taking Root.

I'll be planning some extra special tasting events with fellow curd nerds that will focus on specific cheese selections by type or origin, and in the meantime keep your eyes peeled for more Cheese 101 sessions!

Cheese 101 Sunday February 13th 4:00-6:00 p.m.
Please call the shop at 206.467.5447 to reserve your seat!

Monday, January 10, 2011

I will tell you what's awesome

This weekend one of my regulars, Mr. C*, came into the shop. We chit-chatted about our dogs for a bit and when it came time to turn attention to the cheese, he said "What should I buy this week?" I gave him tastes of three newer additions to the case that I'm in love with, each one a home run (his words), and he left a happily cheesed up customer. While that was happening another guy was perusing the case unable to make up his mind. It was obvious to him that Mr. C and I knew each other to a degree where I could make these recommendations, this newcomer remarked on how cool it is to come into the shop and ask for whatever I think they should have. He wasn't buying cheese that day but promised that when he came back he would just buy a selection of my choice.

I don't think I was really aware of it before, but I have this same relationship with several regulars, and come to think of it, that's pretty freakin' cool. One regular always wants a Dinah's cheese and then three or four of whatever I'm currently loving, but she doesn't do super goaty goat cheese nor care much for any of my French tommes. Another woman spends more on cheese than most of us do on the rest our weekly groceries, and she has a wicked appreciation for stinky washed rinds, soupy Spanish sheep's milk torta's, and big, robust blue's. For her it's not so much about conversation, she simply approaches and I start giving her samples of every big hitter I've got. She moans and groans a lot in appreciation, then buys ample hunks of a dozen things to share with her friends.

I could easily go on and on, about the gentleman whose voice I could listen to forever, who will taste half a dozen things but only ever really buys truffle cheese and Caveman Blue. Or the awesome couple who want their taste buds assaulted by things so stinky and sticky I save the over-the-hill bits for them and they love it.

I know I sound like I'm boasting, and hell, maybe I am a little! But really my customers deserve just as many kudos for being so receptive to what I'm doing, and that's my whole point. This is exactly what I wanted when I decided to do this - the same personalized experience I used to have at my local cheese shop, but being on the other side of the deli case is WAY more satisfying, especially when one of my favorite regulars, who's been coming in since opening weekend, tells complete strangers "Just ask Sheri, she'll tell you what's awesome."

*Probably nobody cares, but just in case I'm not mentioning any real names

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year's!

I'm not quite sure how to begin this post other than saying WOW, again and again, WOW, thank you Seattle for making the first (partial) year of The Calf & Kid such a smashing success!

It's a little incomprehensible to think that one year ago at this time I was signing my lease and hyperventilating on a daily basis at the excitement and the intense stress of all that had to be accomplished for me to open. Next thing I knew, it was three months later and the cheese-loving population of Seattle was keeping me busier than I'd ever hoped or imagined. So I wax a little poetic; the experience I've had so far is entirely worthy of it.

The holiday season is expected to be a time when one in retail, specifically food retail, makes more money they than do any other time of year. This being my first holiday season, I wasn't sure to expect. The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving were very slow, and I was a bit worried about how that food-centric holiday would pan out for my shop, but lo and behold, even in the midst of a snowstorm, Seattlites made their way to our counter in droves for delicious cheeses to share with their friends and family. That week was a blast.
Approaching Xmas (and by that I mean anything anyone celebrates during this time), I spent weeks stocking up and up and up, to the point where I had to face my wonderful staff and say "Well shit, if we don't plow through this inventory by the end of the month then we're screwed!"
And again, so many wonderful customers made the end of December the most amazing days ever. I simply could not be happier about this year, and am looking forward to 2011 just as happy as a kid in a bunny suit.

Stay tuned for some amazing events to keep you going through the cold winter months: Sunday afternoon cheese classes, more amazing cheese and wine pairing events with the illustrious Peter Moore of Poco Wine Room, and field trips to meet the cheesemakers and their herds!

Stay cheesey Seattle <3