Cheese 101!

So, I was having a late lunch Thursday afternoon at Café 501 in Classen Curve, and though I like to pretend at age 29 I know how to properly walk in heels, apparently I do not. Walking back to the car, I tried to maneuver around a Mercedes by stepping into some freshly laid dirt, caught my heel, and ended up on all fours on the pavement, my knee skinned in about ten places. That’s the truth. I wish it were a cooler story like I was riding my bike or just joined the new roller-derby league (my roller name would be Kim-ikaze), but it’s not the case. I’m just a girl who can’t walk properly in vintage (I’m adding the distinction “vintage” to make myself feel better) heels. This is the kind of thing you might think would ruin my day, but you would be wrong. When bad things happen, they’re usually balanced by a positive experience for me. I’m “Even-Steven” or “Jerry” from Seinfeld in that way. As I was bandaging my knee and throwing away my mangled black tights, a friend called to ask me to Cheese 101 at Forward Foods.

“Apparently they teach a class on cheese where you can taste different kinds and figure out what you like,” she told me.

No explanation really needed, you had me at “cheese.”

I’m an infrequent but enthusiastic shopper at Forward Foods. I’ve purchased many things there, especially since they opened the location on Western, but I have to admit I’ve found the cheese counter a little intimidating, so I was excited to learn a little more about cheese. I wasn’t sure what kind of crowd to expect, but the eclectic mix of people made me feel more a ease. In the store’s dining area we found an inviting assortment of cheeses laid out on a slate plate for each person, along with cheese complements like wine, bread, dried apricots and almonds.

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Say Cheese!

Our class instructor Bailey immediately put me at ease by explaining that the class is perfect for people intimated by cheese counters but who are cheese lovers. Bailey really loves cheese. If she was wearing a shirt that explained a little about her personality it would read something like “nerd for cheese” or maybe just feature a block of Brie with a heart around it.  Nothing about her says cheese snob and she has a really charming demeanor.

One of the first revelations Bailey let me in on is that honey is good with almost every cheese. Our first sample was a light and crumbly Queso Fresco, which I’m familiar with from my many Rick Bayless-inspired home dinners. I sprinkle it on enchiladas and over black beans, but I’ve never actually thought to try it all by itself. It’s pretty delicious, especially with the honey. Sitting on the slate dish, it might be mistaken for feta, but it has a much softer, with a lighter flavor to it.

Then we tried the Fromager D’ Affinois and I had what can only be described as a cheese orgasm. It’s a creamy cheese that filled me with nothing but inner warmth and goodness. I could eat this with honey, almonds, by itself with any meal. Bailey informed us that even the rinds are edible; they’re a little saltier but still tasty stuff.

After that, we tried some Coupole from Vermont. It was soft and tangy and tasted great with fresh thyme. Next up was Pecorino Toscano, a sheep cheese from Italy that I dream of making a decadent oversized grilled cheese sandwiches with.

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mmmm…cheese

The next phase of our gastronomic adventure involved switching from the softer cheeses paired with a Sauvignon Blanc to hard cheeses paired with a Syrah. The first hard cheese was Montaigne du Jura, a Swiss Mountain cheese, and we could tell our cows had been feasting on green onions before they were milked. The Grana Padano we sampled next would be a great replacement for Parmiggiano-Reggiano in any recipe that calls for it.

I thought I had peaked early on our cheese journey with the Fromager D’Affinois, until we came across Tome D’ Aquitaine, a washed-rind goat’s milk cheese from France. This was so good I felt my feet start to swing under the table, a habit from childhood that happens whenever I’m eating something really unbelievably yummy like banana-honey peanut butter sandwiches, strawberry milkshakes, and apparently, washed-rind goat’s milk cheese. Bailey explained washed-rind cheeses are packed with harmless bacteria called b-linens, hence the stink. Some people are b-linens people and some aren’t, but I was too distracted by deliciousness to really pay attention. Apparently, I’m a b-linens gal. One of the best things I learned from the class is to give those stinky cheeses a try because b-linens mean yum-o.

Sadly I wasn’t a fan of our last cheese, Shropshire, which is a blue cheese. The flavor of blue cheese has always been too pungent for me. Shropshire was a little lighter then most, but it’s never been my thing. However, if you’re a blue cheese lover, this one is quite a looker with a bright orange color contrasting with pretty veins of blue.

As a teenager living overseas in Italy (as an air force brat), I loved spending Saturday afternoons at the outdoor market, looking at sweaters, picking out fruits, mushrooms, and flowers, but there was one cart usually separated from the pack at the far end of the market and the smell kept me away. That of course was the cheese cart, and how wrong I was to avoid it. There’s no food I’ve tried and regretted for trying, there are only foods I regret not giving a chance sooner.

Forward Foods has a Cheese 101 class each month at both locations. The next one is in January. Call 405 879 9937 for more info. (c) 2010 Kim Hickerson All Rights Reserved.

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