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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Novice Foodie and the Cheesemonger

Posted By on Tue, Dec 22, 2009 at 4:30 PM

I love most cheeses in most forms, but I don't really know much about cheese -- good cheese, I mean, artisanal cheese. Being friends with local food blogger the Cheesemonger's Wife has taught me that I'm missing out. So I asked the Cheesemonger himself, Simon Lehrer of the Wine Merchant in Clayton, to teach me a little something about cheese and to help me put together a Christmas cheese plate for my family.

Every Novice Foodie needs a cheesemonger in her arsenal of foodie friends. Tell your cheesemonger your likes and dislikes, and he or she can point you in the right direction. For the cheese plate for my family, I needed cheeses for less adventurous palates. Lehrer easily tailored what he showed me to meet this request. Once you develop a relationship with a cheesemonger, he or she will remember your preferences and can let you know when new items that you might like have arrived.

Another bonus: Many cheesemongers will let you sample a cheese before you buy it. Lehrer graciously slid slice after slice of cheese across the counter on squares of parchment. I managed to not lick every last bit of Fromage d'Affinois from the paper. Similar to brie, this cheese is a soft, rich double-cream that I dream of eating on a toasted bagel for breakfast. Truth be told, there wasn't much I tried at the Wine Merchant that I didn't like, but I ended up with four cheeses for Christmas Eve with my family: the aforementioned d'Affinois; Snow White, a goat's-milk cheddar from Wisconsin's Carr Valley Cheese Company; a Dutch gouda; and the French ossau iraty, a buttery, nutty sheep's-milk firm cheese.

Lehrer also offered several useful tips about serving and storing cheese:

1. Serve cheese at room temperature. When cheese is served cold, its flavor becomes muted. When it comes to room temperature, its flavors are more pronounced. Lehrer claims you actually eat less cheese at room temperature because you become satiated by the flavor sooner. This sounds like a diet tip that involves eating cheese, which I can totally get behind.

2. A single layer of plastic wrap is the best way of storing cheese. If you eat a lot of good cheese, you may want to get a cheese dome and keep the cheese stored at room temperature on a counter.

3. When planning a plate for a dinner party, figure one ounce of each cheese served per person, two ounces if you know most people at the party will really be into cheese.

Of course, I couldn't leave the Merch without something to nosh on between now and Christmas. Simon let me try Barely Buzzed from Utah's Beehive Cheese Company, a smooth, nutty cheese rubbed with a mixture of lavender buds and ground coffee beans. I was apprehensive about such an unusal combination, but the flavors combine in an addictive way. I enjoyed a piece with my breakfast this morning and was delighted again by the flavors. I would have never picked this from a case on my own, and I'm sure I'll buy it again, thanks to the sage wisdom of my (now) regular cheese guy, Simon Lehrer.

Kelli Best-Oliver is on a quest to become a full-fledged foodie. She chronicles her adventures every Tuesday. She writes about any damn thing she pleases at South City Confidential.

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