Friday, February 29, 2008

Be True To Your School

Photo: Valdeon, a Spanish blue cheese.

In my fridge right now: a hunk of La Tur, half a wheel of Winnemere, a small wedge of Tarentaise, and a few small bits of Fiscalini's Bandage Wrapped Cheddar. This is in addition to the cheese Jim and I picked up last weekend at The Cheese Shop in Healdsburg. We grabbed some Essex Street Comte, a firm sheep's milk Ovejo Romao, a semi-soft washed rind goat cheese Cacio di Capra, and sheep's milk Tomme Brulee. Most of the comte is gone and we'll be devouring the Tomme Brulee this weekend.

Photo: Cheese School owner Sara Vivenzio and baby Mila

Staying busy is a good thing for me, particularly while I'm sitting on my heels, waiting for our creamery property to appear. Working at the Cheese School of San Francisco has given me a great opportunity to expand my horizons. I get to continue to work with cheese, interact with eager cheese lovers hungry for knowledge, and gain exposure to cheeses that I haven't worked with behind the counter at Cowgirl Creamery. What a great place to work!

Photo: Cheese and Wine Pairing with Janet Fletcher, Michael refilling glasses.

Two or three times a week, the classroom is a buzz with up to 30 people, ready and eager to learn how to appreciate cheese. Most classes sell out quickly. Clearly there is a huge demand for cheese education. While working at Cowgirl, customers asked for classes on cheeses of the world and cheesemaking all the time. Cheese is an ancient and mysterious food. Cheese classes help demystify a trip to the cheese counter.

Photo: The Cheese School's Ariel and the Pasta Shop's Juliana prep for the class - The Cheeses of Spain.

Here in the Bay Area, we are fortunate enough to have some very good cheese educators. Collectively our local cheese experts have owned cheese shops, worked in the cheese industry, published books and articles on cheese, and worked at creameries, cheese-aging facilities, and cheese counters around the world. Lots of them teach at The Cheese School of San Francisco. Also you can find the experts at wineries, hosting cheese and wine pairing classes. Wineries are great venues for cheese classes. So are brewpubs. I have a friend who will go to your house and bring the cheese and wine class to you.

Of course, classes are offered everywhere if you take the time to look. The cheese shops of New York City have some nice class offerings, too. Murray's as well as Artisanal both offer classes throughout the year.

Photo: Cheese plates ready to go for a Wine and Cheese Pairing.

Christine Hyatt, a.k.a. The Cheese Chick, offers cheese education classes at wineries as well as other venues in Oregon. She's even launched Cheese TV, web-based videos with a cheese focus. With all of my trips to Portland and the Oregon Wine Country, I have no idea how I haven't met her, but I hope to run into her soon. If she works with cheese, she's probably a kindred spirit. Not to mention that we both lived in Austin, Texas for a while. --Side note-- In what seems like a past life, I was in Austin in 1992-1993, living the slacker life, working behind the counter at Waterloo Records and as a production intern at KGSR. It took me a year to realize that no matter how cool and funky Austin can be, it is still Texas and that's not for me. I packed up and moved back to San Francisco, another wacky place and the land of my birth. But I digress....

Photo: Valentine's Day at the Cheese School of San Francisco, XOX Chocolate Truffles and Grandin Sparkling Wine.

The Cheese School offers classes two or three times per week. The class size is usually 25-30 people. For two hours, students get to enjoy 8 - 12 cheeses as well as 2-4 wines. The numbers vary with the class offered. The class called Basic Cheese Primer covers 12 cheeses and two wines. Cheeses of Spain had nine different cheeses. The extremely popular Cheese and Wine Pairings cover eight cheeses and four, sometimes five wines. In addition to cheese and wine, we put out a nice array of accompaniments: honey, jam, frest fruit, dried fruit, almonds, candied walnuts, as well a basked of bread (fresh baked Acme sweet baguette and walnut levain) are set out on each table for students to try with their cheese. Sara Vivienzio, the director of the school is meticulous and has a great eye for detail. When students walk into the classroom, they are always impressed.

Photo: Judy Creighton leading a Basic Cheese Primer class.

Each class takes several hours of prep work. We've got to set the table, go pick up fresh fruit and bread, cut the cheese, slice the bread, make accompaniment plates, fill water jugs, chill the wine, and then we're ready for the students. I like being a part of this enterprise.

Besides having some nice left-overs, I've gotten to meet some really wonderful people.

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