Artisanal Cheese Definitions

There is much talk of Artisan food in the world right now, we wanted to take a moment and clear up a few terms .

Artisan: Made by hand by traditional methods. A person is there during every part of the process, checking each stage. Artisan Cheese will more reflect the environment and the differences in milk from season to season. Craftsman is a synonym. A skilled person is at the helm.

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Farmstead cheese from these goats at Fat Toad Farm

Farmstead: The animals are on the property where the cheese is being made. The cheese makers have a farm and make the cheese there. Not all artisan cheese is farmstead, Cowgirl Creamery, for instance, gets their milk from Strauss Organic Dairy.

Commercial: As the name implies commercial cheese is made in large batches. It may not have the variations of an artisan cheese but some of it can be quite good. Rembrandt Gouda is one example of a popular commercial cheese. Fromage Affinois is another. It depends on the company and the care and pride they take in their product. And of course, it always comes down to taste.

Industrial Cheese: This is larger than just commercial. There is one company in California that makes 2.4 million pounds of cheese a day. No one sees the milk, it is piped in, pasteurized, put in a tank, buttons are pushed, cheese comes out. This is often sent to restaurants, pizza parlors, food service and used for private label.

Processed Cheese Food: Has a minimum of 51% dairy product by final weight – meaning milk or whey. And it may contain one or more optional ingredients. Whereas there are some spreads that are okay, many add oils, chemicals and artificial flavors to make them shelf stable for years.

At Fancifull great care is taken in selecting the cheese we carry in the shop and design into our Gift Baskets. We take pride in the research we do regarding the food on our shelves and are committed to bringing you the best in a variety of price ranges.

Hand Flipping the curds at Beecher's in Seattle

Hand Flipping the curds at Beecher’s in Seattle

Goat Cheese being drained

Goat Cheese being drained

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The Golden State

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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.

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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.

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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

Sensory Overload-All In A Day’s Work

Terry and Wally before heading into Tate's

Terry and Wally before heading into Tate's

Eating cookies in South Hampton, sampling cheese from all over the world in Manhattan, walking up and down an aisle in the Los Angeles Convention Center diligently sniffing each candle that is on display – these are just a few of my favorite things. At least they are a few of the items listed in my job description as the buyer for Fancifull.
Cheese and Charcuterie

Cheese and Charcuterie


It means that vacations are often spent hunting down a vendor in their native land to see how they make their cookies – like Tate’s Bake Shop in South Hampton. or Jacky Blot wine in the Loire Valley of France. I put in days at Trade Shows eating cheese from France, Italy, Northern California, Holland, and anywhere they make cheese – which is just about everywhere except parts of Asia and Africa. Not happy just to find a nice looking candle line, I have to smell all the ones offered to be sure I am buying the one that has the best aroma, doesn’t make me sneeze, is environmentally sound, and looks good. Don’t get me started on the number of lotions I smeared on my hands and arms, as well as labels I read, looking for a new bath line to bring into Fancifull.
Goat Cheese at the show

Goat Cheese at the show


One of the owners of Point Reyes Blue Cheese

One of the owners of Point Reyes Blue Cheese


I know, I could just sit back and look at the catalogs I get sent, or go on web sites. But really, can you tell a cookie is going to be good by reading about it? Also there is the comparison factor, this is good, but suppose there is something better? It is a constant search. I want to meet the person making that product such as Sara from Sara’s Snackers, which I found recently at the Fancy Food show in New York. Turns out Sara was a client of ours when she worked at an agency in Hollywood and is now in New York making delicious cookies with potato chips. Yes, they are addicting – the crunch of the chips make a great texture for the cookie. Look for those in our shop in the next month or so (may need to wait for cooler weather as they have a chocolate coating, whet your appetite yet?)
French Cheese

French Cheese

Italian Cheese

Italian Cheese

Going to Tate’s was a delight because they have been our best selling cookies for years.
I’m afraid to ask how they get the cookies tasting so fresh out of box, I’m sure there is some deal with the devil or something of the sort. I can report the chocolate chip cookies we ate in the bakery-in the name of science-did taste like the ones we carry in our shop. I probably didn’t need to try the cherry cobbler or coconut cupcake, but I wanted to be sure they kept their standards up in all areas – at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Long Island Goats, We had their cheese for dinner - yum!

Long Island Goats, We had their cheese for dinner - yum!


We didn't eat cheese directly from this cow, I hope

We didn't eat cheese directly from this cow, I hope

New Items Coming Soon to Fancifull:
Sara’s Snacker’s Cookies
Lulu Soy Candles
Burgundy Blue Baby Clothes
An even greater variety of cheese
Long Island Wine
Baskets made from magazines (they look great)
Better Stainless Water Bottles
Malibu Lotion

Any Suggestions?