Why am I always talking about cheese, some of you have asked. Well, apart from my unwavering love of dairy (try as I might, I just can’t tear myself away) and the only slightly disgusting, but embarrassingly true, fact that I want to dive into a vat of luscious, buttery Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill and swim around in it the way Scrooge McDuck swims around in his gold coins …I happen to work at a cheese shop.
Artisan Cheese Company stole my heart from day one. As a customer, I would come and talk to Louise for hours. No joke. I would let others place their orders and then sidle up to the counter to talk about tastes and scents and the beautiful complexities of the cheeses Louise stocked in the cold cases. We would discuss crackers and honeys and Murray’s Cheese in New York. We would trade recipes and make up new ones using only ingredients from the shop. Artisan Cheese Company was always my favorite errand.
Eventually, I made my way to the other side of the counter, where I now proudly hold the title of Partner at this awesome downtown Main Street shop. Part boutique gourmet experience, part itty bitty bistro, part cheese education, my dreams of being surrounded by cheese have finally come to fruition. Our shop supports artisanal cheese and pantry goods makers and farmers who are passionate about animal welfare and putting out the highest quality milk. Or, as I often tell our customers – we don’t have any ‘weird shit’ in the store …meaning, nothing processed or mass-produced under our roof. Only the good stuff makes the cut.
Here is a little more on our lovely little store around the corner from Edible Sarasota’s Cooks Edition which came out a few months ago. The text is by Louise and offers some great insight into how to properly pick and care for your cheese.
PS – that’s Parker and Louise (shop owners) in the pics – aren’t they cute!!
BY LOUISE CONVERSE
PHOTOS BY JENNY ACHESON
What is so special about cheese?
“Cheese is milk’s leap toward immortality,” said Cliff Fadiman. The more I learn about cheese and its intricacies the more I fall in love with it. Cheese is essentially preserved milk, and yet out of three or four simple ingredients we get thousands of varieties and styles, cheese with characteristics perfected by cheese-makers, passed down from generation to generation. Cheese reflects local history, geography, and terroir. And here in this country, in the middle of our cheese renaissance, you’ll find the same is true – cheese-making traditions are being created and shared.
What do you suggest serving with cheese?
Taste is so subjective, and I think we tend to choose flavor profiles that we know we like. If you’re going to pair with food, you want to showcase flavors equally and not drown out one flavor over another. We can offer general guidelines on how to pair certain cheeses to bring out flavor profiles within a cheese, but my general rule of thumb is to be adventurous and try things out. I adore a blue cheese on its own, but other days I’ll reach for honey with my blue cheese—it tends to tamp down the salinity and elevate the sweetness of the paste. There are some cheeses that scream for anything fig, and if you haven’t had a hard cheese with an aged balsamic, you haven’t lived. I stay away from spicy foods with natural rind cheeses, but love them with fresh goats. It’s all about balance and playing well with others; you want your choices to like each other and not compete.
How should cheese be stored at home?
Cheese is alive, so never ever keep your cheese wrapped in plastic wrap, which suffocates it. Wrap it in cheese paper (Formaticum, which we sell) that’s a two-ply paper created to allow cheese to breathe. Or, use wax paper, or even aluminum foil, loosely wrapped. Keep your cheese in the most humid part of your fridge, which is usually at the bottom of the vegetable drawer. And far from foods with strong odors. Humidity is as important as temperature to the life of cheese. Or you can create your own cheese box: use any plastic box and add a dampened paper towel. Put a barrier between the towel and your cheese, and then add three sugar cubes to help keep the cheese fresher longer.
What should a novice cheese buyer look for when selecting a cheese platter for the holidays?
Keep it simple for starters. Go for three or five cheeses and then build from there. I’d suggest a bloomy rind, something creamy, maybe a goat, then a firm cheese, perhaps something from the Northeast, a Landaff from New Hampshire, and make sure that a sheep’s milk is represented, and then end on a blue, maybe Great Hill Blue from Marion, Massachusetts. Using the cheese as the foundation it becomes easy to create from there—salame, nuts, preserves, honey, crackers—and before you know it, you have a cheese board you’ll be proud of.
What are the top things happening with Florida cheese?
Compared to the rest of the South, Florida seems to be lagging behind in the cheese movement. However, that’s changing, as evidenced by this past year’s annual American Cheese Society awards, which are the American cheese world’s Academy Awards, if you will. Umbuzi Farm and Dairy in Buckingham, Florida—the state’s first goat dairy to receive certification— won first place in the open category for goat’s milk cheese. This took Jim Ellis, the cheese-maker, by surprise. We’re working on bringing their goat cheese to the case soon. Another Florida cheese, which we do have in the case regularly, is Loblolly, a raw Jersey cow Tomme by Cypress Point Creamery in Hawthorne. I was determined to showcase a Florida cheese, but it had to be one I could stand behind. I visited the dairy in August and fell in love with their Tomme, named after the loblolly pine.
What are your favorite cheeses?
Cheese is so seasonal. If it’s Thanksgiving where friends are gathered, I’m apt to have a celebratory cheese, such as Rush Creek Reserve, or a Vacherin Mont d’Or. If I need a pickme- up, then it’s usually a classic English Cheddar, likely a Montgomery. I love a good stinker though, that funky, gooey cheese where the windows must be opened, so a ripe Époisses de Bourgogne is a cheese I’ll turn to when I need a treat that I don’t have to share with my husband, as he can’t get past the pungent nose of this one. For a late-night snack on a sleepless night an aged goat seems to do the trick. And since I’m half English and Scottish, then I’ll have Stilton on hand for Christmas and New Year, or any big celebration really.
Artisan Cheese Company: 1310 Main St, Sarasota; 941-951-7860; artisancheesecompany.com