"Il faut cultiver notre jardin" Candide
Five years ago I was the specialty wine and beer buyer for a grocery chain in the area. Some of us need the warm, comfortable embrace of a stable corporation with market penetration, retirement benefits and the security of a convivial team of like minded peers. Not I. Cheese had the potential to take me on a journey beyond my corporate team to an unruly gang of cheese making entrepreneurs! I read that local cheese makers made cheeses that rival the great European types. My fellow specialty food team members were wrapping and weighing those very cheeses. The smell, the allure, the French-ness of it all, this was for me.
I bid adieu to the team, and went to Burlington, Vermont, home of The Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese (VIAC) to learn the arts of fine cheese making, but I learned more. I learned best practices to prevent food illnesses in your cheese plant, a little organic chemistry, and we visited and tasted some of the finest artisan cheese in New England. Their mission statement says it all:
"VIAC`s mission is to strengthen and enhance the artisan cheesemaking industry through scientific research, professional and public education, and technology transfer. "
Dr. Catherine Connelly, co-director of VIAC, gave me the opportunity to apprentice with the folks who run the Cellars at Jasper Hill, affineurs who have caves that age blue cheese, cheddar, and mold rind cheeses. I wish the VIAC program could be duplicated at other universities, with the thought that the way we make food could take the best from the industrial approach and apply the science and best practices to the artisan methods, oh, and make something delicious.
I made cheese and sold at farmers' markets when I returned. But this little property around the corner from where I live went into foreclosure, and I embarked upon my next project, a cheese shop. It started as a remodel. It became a tad bit more complicated than that. The inspector showed up midway through the project, looked at the remaining two termite infested walls and said "You aren't keeping those, are you?" And we didn't. But we did find some treasure hiding inside - some century old redwood boards. Those boards have been reconditioned, and are now paneling for the new shop, made from 1880's redwood.
Join me as I fire up the crêpe pan, slice some cheeses and pour some very special Sonoma County olive oils.