A cornucopia of cheese!

My family was never one in which we all went around the table and said what were thankful for that year. Truthfully, I always thought that tradition was kind of cheesy. But since this is a cheese blog, Colleen and I thought it would be appropriate to craft a short list of thanks as our blog celebrates its first birthday.

  1. We are thankful for Wine Spectator for creating the 100 great cheeses list. The idea for our blog came this magazine’s Sept. 30, 2008 issue, which Colleen discovered one day last fall, and we snowballed on it. Though we haven’t agreed with the magazine on the merits of each cheese on the list, it gave us a wonderful starting point for tasting new cheeses and relishing old favorites. Special thanks are due to Wine Spectator features editor Owen Dugan, whose kind words have meant a lot to us. Sorry we missed you when we were in New York last summer, Owen! We’ll definitely come again.
  2. We are thankful for the generosity of the cheese community. When we started this project last year, we didn’t have any special connections to the industry. We were just two cheese-obsessed women who wanted to do something fun and find an excuse to eat even more cheese. So it has been all the more gratifying to meet and correspond with many of the top cheesemakers, cheesemongers, cheese writers and bloggers and cheese lovers across the United States (and beyond). Everyone has welcomed and encouraged our interest in cheese and made us feel like we belonged. Being generous with samples is always appreciated, too!
  3. We are thankful for our readers. Anyone can start a blog, but there’s no guarantee you’ll have an audience. Hell, we’re pretty sure that our parents don’t read this blog. (Husbands, maybe?) So it has been fun to hear from readers through comments and e-mail, exchange links with other cheese and food bloggers and continue the conversations on other excellent cheese blogs. If you’ve been visiting regularly over the past year, thank you! If you’ve come a few times, thank you! And if this is your first time, thank you, too!
  4. We are thankful for Twitter. A technology that was under the radar screen until a year or so ago has much to do with the success of our blog. Not only does it bring readers to our site, it has made it easy for us to connect with other caseophiles on the Web. Twitter is how we met Tia, who scored us prime-time seats at Casellula and made sure we had cheese coming out of our ears by the time we left the restaurant. Twitter is how I reserve cheese with my cheesemonger friend Benjamin at France 44. And Twitter is how we keep on top of the latest cheese and foodie news. (No, we were not paid by Twitter for this.)
  5. We are thankful for cheese. What would this world be without cheese? Boring and less delicious. We’re lucky to be passionate about a food that offers so much variety and excitement that there is no end to the amount of tasting and talking we could do on the subject. Yes, we might have lower cholesterol levels or a few pounds lighter, but what fun would that be?

We hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday!

Colleen and Jill

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the tongue,
And therefore is fromage best sampled blind.”

– Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, adapted

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first: this is not an unbiased review. We first met Tia Keenan, mistress de fromage, virtually via Twitter. It was love at first tweet as we instantly sensed a kindred spirit in cheese. So when Jill and I realized the stars would align for us to meet midsummer in New York, Casellula was top on our agenda. On a night when the biggest and brightest of the professional cheese trade were in town, many also visiting this intimate cheese and wine cafe, Tia was a warm hostess and generous with her time and talent.

As cheese junkies, it is futile to ask what kind of cheese we like best. Would you ask a mother to name her favorite child? Well, right now we can, but that’s only because we each have only one. But back to the point, we prefer to do the asking when at a cheese shop or ordering a cheese plate, and our best finds are often those when we relinquish control and let the cheesemonger surprise us. This was certainly the case at Casellula, where we selected the New York flight as the most likely to contain cheeses we weren’t familiar with, and were delighted when Tia made a few adjustments for us. New York’s 3-Corner Field Brebis Blanche (so fresh!) and Red Meck were certainly delicious, but we were totally smitten with the Pipe Dreams chevre log and sweet pea puree pairing. Lazy Lady Farm’s Bipartisan, a fresh goat cheese ball dropped into a washed-rind cow’s-milk cheese, was a most welcome treat. The cheese plates Tia lovingly prepares are truly inspired, with pairings ranging from a typical mustard to pickled ramps and coconut macaroon balls.

While the rest of our trip was meticulously documented in photos, tweets and tasting notes, we declared ourselves off duty and simply savored our wine, cheese, plate of fresh anchovies with fennel and pickled shallots, blue cheese-laden endive salad and mouth-watering desserts. So we can’t tell you what wine we drank, other than that it was a lovely full-bodied white Czech tokai, but we can tell you that the parsnip cookies with Pipe Dreams chevre filling are simply not to be missed. Aside from that, entrust the wine suggestions and cheese selections to Tia’s capable hands, and you’re sure to walk away refreshed and inspired.

Casellula
Hell’s Kitchen NYC
401 W. 52nd Street
5pm – 2am, 7 days a week (reservations not accepted)
212.247.8137
Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe on Urbanspoon

It’s been an exciting week here at C+C. Not only did Colleen and I get to see each other for the first time in more than a year (!), we spent a fabulous three days eating our way through New York City. We’ll have lots more to share about our NYC cheese adventures next week, but we won’t keep you waiting any longer for our report from the big gig: the 2009 Fancy Food Show.

yes, that is a humboldt fog wedding cake

yes, that is a humboldt fog wedding cake

The Fancy Food Show is the biannual event of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT), and it’s like Nirvana for anyone who loves food. Since it’s a trade show, it’s not open to the general public, but as the co-writers/publishers of a top 10 cheese blog, Colleen and I were able to attend as part of the press corps. (We felt very official.) Unfortunately, our busy schedules allowed us to spend only four hours at the show and we barely scratched the surface, but we did get to visit a number of cheese-centric booths and taste lots of cheese.

The high and low points of the show:

Hits

  • Meeting some of our favorite cheesemakers, like Mary Keehn from Cypress Grove Chevre and Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm. Both were generous with their time and samples, and Mateo even mentioned that he put a link to our
    talking cheddar with Lucy of Neals Yard Dairy

    talking cheddar with Lucy of Neal's Yard Dairy

    Winnimere review on Jasper Hill Farm’s Facebook page. (Thanks, Mateo!) Mary posed for a quick photo with us just hours before it was announced that her Truffle Tremor won the sofi for best product in the cheese/dairy category at the show. A well-deserved honor! We also had fun chatting with the folks from Faribault Dairy and Grafton Village

  • Learning about new cheese partnerships, such as Faribault Dairy and Grafton Village’s new collaboration on Clothbound Cheddar. Vermont-based Grafton Village now sends its Clothbound Cheddar to Minnesota to age in Faribault’s famed sandstone caves. British cheese powerhouse Neal’s Yard Dairy is also working with Colston Bassett Dairy to age its Stilton, and the union results in a creamier, tangier blue cheese that we really enjoyed.
  • Finding some untasted cheeses on our list, like the triple-crème Brie from the Marin French Cheese Company and the Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery. (Washed down with a gulp of Rogue Chocolate Stout, yum.) Watch for our upcoming reviews over the next few weeks!
  • Discovering new products to pair with our cheeses. You’ll have to stay tuned for specifics, but let’s just say there was no shortage of chocolate, crackers, oils, teas, coffees and more. (Imagine if we’d had time to sample all the adult beverages, too!)

Misses

  • Unfriendly French cheese exhibitors. The only way we were able to sample any French cheeses was to linger around the cheese displays for approximately 10 minutes before the person working the booth would even pay attention to us. Memo to the French: The reason why people come to the show is to taste your cheese. It’s really hard for them to do that if you ignore them.

    perfect pairings from rogue and rogue ale

    perfect pairings from rogue and rogue ale

  • Absent American cheese exhibitors … and too much floor space. We had hoped to try more new American cheeses, but were disappointed to find the Capriole Goat Cheese booth unmanned. Others we just didn’t make it to (Utah’s Beehive, Coach Farm) in our short amount of time. It would’ve been nice if the American cheesemakers’ booths were less spread out (own pavilion next year, perhaps?), though I imagine people with more time to spend grazing benefited from other snacks between cheese samples. 
  • Our wimpy stomachs. We didn’t eat breakfast that day in order to leave room for lots of cheese samples, but we still became full relatively quickly. Perhaps it was the dozen or so cheeses we had sampled the day before. Or the large iced coffees we drank on the walk to the show. Or the three desserts we shared during the previous night’s dinner at Casellula. Anyway, we were stuffed much earlier than I had anticipated. I managed to recover in time to try a Magnolia Bakery cupcake at 10 p.m. that night. Colleen said she choked down half a sandwich during her bus ride back to D.C.

Did you attend this year’s Fancy Food Show? Any stories or tidbits to share? Spill them here!

(And another miss, from Colleen – using the iPhone instead of a real camera. Um, duh. Will bring better equipment next year!)