It’s that time again: out with the old, in with the new; a fresh start; a renewed sense of [insert deep internal need/desire here]; time to lose weight, get more sleep, be more productive, and do it all. Did someone say “New Year’s resolution?”
Now, I don’t know too many people who actually set New Year’s resolutions these days. I hear more about “setting intentions” for the year more than anything; maybe that’s just a new way of saying the same old thing?
While the beginning of a new calendar does seem like a perfect time to press the reset button and promise to do better, I think most of us know that changing habits is easier said (announced, written down, etc.) than actually done. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have resolve, even without a neat list of resolutions.
In honor of the beginning of the last year of the second decade of this century, I ask you to join me in making it a point to learn something new as often as much as possible.
In 2019, let’s resolve to learn something every day.
(Obviously, I want you to learn more about cheese.)
In this spirit, I have created a list of some resources and ideas to get those brain cells zapping. In addition to continuing to read this blog (which I hope you will!), here are some other ways to increase your cheese IQ and learn something every day about the food we eat, the people who produce it, and the systems which bring that food to us.
These are a few of my favorite cheese education blogs. There are plenty of good cheese blogs online, and each person writing one has something different to say—even when everyone is talking about the same thing. While we all suffer from inbox overload, I promise that these cheesiest of postings are ones you actually will want to read.
- Cheese Sex Death: A sassy, sexy blog in the millennial sensibility, Cheese Sex Death is a treasure trove of intriguing pairings, quick and digestible cheese facts, and information about cheeses new and old. Plus, Erika’s got some sweet cheese swag you can sport when you’re out in the world.
- Planet Cheese: Food writer Janet Fletcher—with whom I actually got to eat breakfast one day at the 2017 American Cheese Society Conference, and I totally fangirled—has penned books like “Cheese & Beer,” “Cheese & Wine,” and “The Cheese Course” to help make cheese more approachable to the cheese-eating public (and the people who sell cheese to them). Janet posts a quick read to Planet Cheese each week: sometimes it’s a write-up on an individual cheese or type of cheese, sometimes it’s a recipe or pairing she’s excited about, and sometimes it’s a bit of industry news or other information.
- The PhCheese Blog: Shameless plug. My goal is to enlighten, enchant, and engage you with information about cheeses, the histories, cultures, and languages that produced them, and the possibilities they hold. I hope you’ll join me in 2019 in earning your PhC(heese) from this site.
Whether you like to read in your spare time, on the bus, or just before bed, a good book is a thing of beauty. There are tons of cheese books on the market, but these are some of the ones from which I learned the most. I encourage you to purchase them from your local, independent bookstore, if you can!
- “Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager” by Max McCalman and David Gibbons. This book is easy to read and offers a more structured curriculum for the serious curd nerd. For those taking the Certified Cheese Professional exam, this is the book everyone recommends you read in order to pass.
- “The Science of Cheese” by Michael H. Tunick. If you like science—particularly organic chemistry—this book will tickle your fancy. Tunick does a great job of distilling the information so that a lay audience can follow along and gain an understanding of why cheese is/looks/smells/tastes the way it does.
- “The Whole Fromage: Adventures in the Delectable World of French Cheese” by Kathe Lison. Lison weaves a tale of her journeys around France in with visits to cheesemakers and an education in French culture and history. It’s an easy read that will have you googling flights to France.
- “Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge” by Gordon Edgar. Part memoir, part industry study, this book shows Edgar’s trajectory from the punk music scene to a cheese-counter career—and what the two have in common. It’s a book about cheese, but also about the food systems through which we get our cheese and why we should care about them.
Whether it’s a one-time deal or a series of meetings, taking a cheese class can help you become more comfortable buying, making, or pairing cheese. Do it with a friend, family member, or significant other, and have fun. Here are a few places you can look to find one in your area.
- Stores and Organizations: some grocery and book stores or local organizations offer cooking, nutrition, or other food education classes for their customers. They might be free, or they might charge a fee of $25 to $75 or so. The co-op I work for in the Seattle area has the PCC Cooks program, which holds a cheesemaking class every quarter (with cheese tasting classes coming soon). Other classes in the greater Seattle area are offered at DeLaurenti Specialty Food and Wine in Pike Place Market, 21 Acres education and event space in Woodinville, and The Cheesemonger’s Table in Edmonds. Heck, even cheesemakers and other food producers offer classes sometimes–like Twin Sisters Creamery in Ferndale, WA, and Theo Chocolate in Seattle.
- Colleges: universities and community colleges usually have continuing education programs through which you can take a one-time or short-term series of classes. Or, if you have the money, you can sign up to take classes as a non-degree-seeking student.
- Local bloggers and writers: if you follow food writers who live in your area, be on the lookout to see if they sometimes offer classes and educational events you can pay to join. These will usually be posted on their websites and blogs, or in local events listings.
Experiences and Events
- Attend a festival: many locales have food festivals, whether those be dedicated entirely to cheese, or to local food artisans more generally. Washington, Oregon, California, and Wisconsin all hold big cheese festivals once a year. Because so many cheesemakers and local or regional food producers have stands at these events, it is absolutely worth your time to attend.
- Taste more: Get yourself a journal—either a dedicated cheese journal or a blank—and start paying more attention to what you’re eating when you encounter a new cheese (or wine, beer, whatever). Write down what you ate, where it’s from, what it’s made with, what it looks like, how it smells, how it feels, and how it tastes—as well as whether or not you’d buy it again, whether you liked it, and where you bought it. Keeping these kinds of notes will help you find things again that you enjoyed and will allow you to figure out what you like and why or why not.
- Visit a creamery: Call a local cheesemaker and see if you can come check out their facility or farm. Many cheesemakers are happy to show guests how they make their products. If there is an area with several creameries (like Ferndale or Bow, Washington), you can schedule several visits for a creamery hop. Some creameries also have small shops and tasting rooms, too, so you can experience pairings and new cheeses while you are there.
- Volunteer to make cheese: The best way to learn something is often to physically do it. While some creameries will give you a tour and let you watch them make cheese, others yet will actually let you into the make room to help out. If you are interested in taking part in the cheesemaking process once—or even if you want to volunteer regularly—that may be a possibility. Just give the cheesemaker a call and see if this is something they are interested in.
If you spend a lot of time in traffic on your daily commute, or if you just like listening to something, download a podcast that will enlighten your day.
- Cutting the Curd: Interviews with cheesemakers, cheesemongers, importers, and others working in the cheese field, as well as reviews of books about food. This podcast is engaging, has a slate of rotating hosts to keep things interesting, and comes out once a week.
- Meat and Three: Learn four things about the food industry every week. Stories are based around a common theme, feature radio journalism-style storytelling, and deal with a variety of topics from food trends to food safety and food sustainability.
- Guild of Fine Food: If you use iTunes for podcasts, you can check out this series of interviews with people in the food industry. The host takes you to the World Cheese awards in Norway, to a farmstead cheesemaking operation in England, and to learn how cheesemongers get ready for the busy Christmas season in Europe.
If you’re going to sit down and watch TV, you might as well learn something. Here are some of the food series that have really changed my outlook on food, cooking, and eating. If you ask me what I like to watch, I will inevitably start talking about these and won’t stop until I have convinced you to watch them.
- “Cooked”: This four-part mini-series is based on Michael Pollan’s book by the same name. Exploring the elements “fire,” “water,” “earth,” and “air,” Pollan uses common themes among the world’s food cultures to explore how and why humans historically ate the way they did, the commonalities among disparate peoples’ food cultures, and the development of cooking techniques that are used the world over.
- “Chef’s Table”: Five seasons in, this is still a series that my fiancé and I binge watch the week it drops. Each episode follows a different chef through his or her journey to the top of the field, along with the accompanying trials and tribulations, and the struggle to make the food he or she most wants to feed people. The chefs are situated all over the globe, many of them at some of the world’s best restaurants, and it’s fun to travel to them by watching this feast for the eyes.
- “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”: Another four-part mini-series based on a book (this one by Samin Nosrat, who actually was in “Cooked” with Michael Pollan), this series breaks down the elements that develop the flavors we taste in food. While Nosrat travels abroad to explore cooking techniques and recipes in places like Mexico, Italy, and France, she leaves you with formulas to enliven your own cooking wherever you live.
I’m looking forward to learning and tasting my way through 2019. Are you with me?
What are some resources and ideas I might have missed? In other words, what are your favorite modes for learning more about food and cheese? Please share!