The Golden State

Image

Opening Night Cheese Tasting

The Golden State

“Eureka! There’s gold in them thar hills.” That was the cry of the 49ers who came to California in the 1800s looking to score a fortune in the gold rush. Now up in the hills of Marin and scattered throughout the state, is gold of different kind. It still of the land, but in the form of milk and dairy products.

IMG_2207

Northern California has long been considered a food epicenter – focusing on family owned farms producing organic product. The establishment of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) helped assure that the area of Marin would continue to support farmers and green space rather than being overrun by condos. You can learn more about MALT here: http://www.malt.org/

The call of gold lured me and Wally to load up our wagon and head up north to those very same hills in March to attend and help with the California Artisan Cheese Festival which was held in Petaluma from March 22nd-24th.

The weekend was filled with tours of local cheese makers’ facilities and farms, seminars (beer and cheese at 9:30 am anyone?), tastings, meals, and a Marketplace on Sunday. We attended our first festival last year and immediately became members of the Guild which gave us the opportunity to help set up and run their booth at the Marketplace. Having to be there at 9 am was difficult, but talking about the work the Guild does and the classes they offer in conjunction with the College of Marin was gratifying.

Image

New Kids on the Block Seminar

Since we teach classes and hold tastings in our shop, we like to get as much insight as we can from the Cheesemaker perspective to share with our students. This lead us to the New Kids on the Block Seminar early Saturday where we got to listen to and ask questions of four Cheesemakers who were bringing new cheese to the market. They spoke frankly about their development process and the challenges in introducing a new cheese to the American public. Janet Fletcher of the San Francisco Chronicle lead the discussion with the cheesemakers and asked pointed questions to keep the info flowing. One of our favorite new cheeses is Point Reyes Bay Blue. Cuba, the cheesemaker for Point Reyes, talked about how he has refined this recipe for years before releasing it. While visiting Point Reyes two yeas ago we had the opportunity to try it in its first stages! Patience pays off. The new Bay Blue is astounding and already winning awards. But it took over two years to get it right! That is a lot of time and effort. We felt fortunate to be able to experience its evolution, it gave us terrific insight into the process of taking a pretty good cheese and turning it into a great one.

New Kids on the Block

New Kids on the Block

Luckily for our Fancifull Customers we have an in with the dairy, so they shipped us a wheel even though it isn’t in wide distribution yet. Nice to have friends in high places.

Toward the end of the seminar, our moderator, Janet Fletcher, let us know that she had just released her latest book: Cheese and Beer . I bought one immediately (and had her sign it). It has lots of information that should contribute to some tasty classes at Fancifull in the near future.

At lunch, we shared our table with the folks from Cypress Grove, another of our favorite cheese companies. Wally would eat Humboldt Fog every morning if he could and I have to say the same about Midnight Moon.

The afternoon held a wine pairing seminar with old world and new world cheese and wine. Old World basically means Europe while new world speaks to the U.S. and Australia. The class was very similar to what we offer in our classes at Fancifull but it was fun to be a student rather than the teacher. There is always so much to learn and Laura Werlin, author of several books on cheese, was a terrific tour guide.

Laura Werlin, our fearless leader

Laura Werlin, our fearless leader

This cheesy weekend left us brimming with ideas and new product to bring into our shop. There is just so much great cheese out there, how do we sell it all? Answer: One wedge at a time.

OId World/New World Wine and Cheese

Old World/New World Wine and Cheese

Advertisements

Ya Think or Ya Want? Italian Attitude

Our daughter Naomi translating for us

Our daughter Naomi translating for us

I have recently realized that I am a researcher and thus an explorer. Whether I am trying to find a great ingredient for a basket or wandering into the hillsides of Italy, I am always searching for insight. Perhaps it is where a certain chocolate comes from and how that affects the taste. It can be why Balsamic Vinegar ages best in the attic, as I learned on one of my Italy trips from a woman in Modena who was kind enough to give us a tour of her Balsamic Factory. We spent a scent filled morning in her attic, while she explained the traditions of Modena and the vinegars while showing us around her barrels of balsamic, some going back more than 100 yrs. We sampled vinegars that had been aged 8, 12, 25 and 40 years. Understanding the process helped to better appreciate the product, which is perhaps the crux of why I like to research: appreciation.

My favorite aspect of travel is the ability to savor and recognize all the creation that goes on in the far corners of the earth. I get the opportunity to experience first hand the culture, history and the incredible people that inhabit this planet. Cultural and personal idiosyncrasies abound. I have found a great advantage to sitting back and enjoying the show.

Travel allows one to connect the dots as it were. I could see during my first trip to Italy where the so called New York attitude originated. So many Italians immigrated to the east coast in the early part of this century and brought their customs and attitudes with them. This explains the neighborhood feel of New York, where you buy your groceries from the market on your block and eat at the same pizza place at least once a week. I find many Italians have the same gruff, ” whaddya want” attitude New York is famous for. Once you get past that there is a warmth that is increased if you make any attempt to speak Italian at all.

The attitude and the manners change by region of course, much the same as in the United States. But throughout, there is an honesty in the demeanor and in the food of Italy that I find refreshing. The Italians can take 3 ingredients and make a dish with depth and texture. I can still remember a simple mixed green salad I had in Rome. It was only a bowl of mixed greens with olive oil and salt. As I write this I can still smell the greeness (if that is a word), the freshness of the olive oil and taste the crunchy salt. Pretty intense. Which I think sums up Italy.

Watching the world go by, Florence

Watching the world go by, Florence


One of my favorite travel stories illustrates this attitude perfectly. We had just landed in Venice with that wobbly tiredness that comes from a long flight and not nearly enough sleep on the nights preceding our trip. Hungry and wanting to explore the city a bit before passing out, we wove our way through the labyrinth streets. We ended up at a small place just at the foot of a bridge.

In Italy many of the waiters are older; this is a career after all, not something you do while waiting for something better to come along. We had this gruff older waiter, your quintessential tough Italian, salt and pepper hair, craggy face, bulbous nose, and somewhat squat.

We were trying to make our way through the menu. It was printed in 4 languages and we were having a hard time focusing much less reading even the English version. Did we want a Primi Piatti (usually pasta), Contorni (vegetables), or a Secondo (meat or fish dish), the list of choices went on and on. You see, most Italian menus are broken down into many categories and you put your meal together. With so much to choose from we were taking a little longer than the waiter wanted.

He comes to take our order and my husband, Wally, orders an antipasto with the intention of ordering something else. The waiter starts to walk off and Wally says, “Wait, I think I’ll have the Spaghetti Bolognese.” The waiter fixes him with a steely stare and barks out, “You think or you want?” Wally, eyes wide and a bit startled yells back, “I want I want!” “Okay” grunts the waiter, with the appropriate hand gesture and takes off.

We almost fell on the floor we were laughing so hard. This was the perfect introduction to a country we have come to love. We all decided that was a very good life lesson. Do you think or do you want? One needs to be definite in this world. I appreciate the lesson.

View from our room, Bellagio

View from our room, Bellagio