Never travel without a cheesemonger. Or, always invite a cheesemonger to your party. I’ve said one of those things before, and I will likely do so again.
I’ve been pretty quiet online throughout most of the month of May.
In part, I needed a sabbatical from the interwebs (which means I needed to be left alone to my own thoughts, mostly). I was reading a lot to study for the CCP exam which is coming up in July. I was also dealing with a lot of stress at work, thanks in no small part to every cheesemonger’s worst foe: refrigeration issues.
The boyfriend and I also traveled to Idaho for a weekend to see one of my cousins get married and take part in family festivities (which meant he got to meet almost everyone on my dad’s side of the family all at once, poor guy).
While we were out of town, some asshat rear-ended my car while it was safely (or so I thought) parked back home in Seattle. So I was carless and bus-bound upon our homecoming.
Also, I had a birthday.
The most relevant thing here, though, is the trip to Idaho. My dad’s family is large, loud, and loves a good party. We like to think it’s a Catholic thing, or an Italian thing, depending on who you talk to about this fixation.
My dad and my eldest cousin tend to cover the beverage situation. And by “situation,” I mean usually spending somewhere in the neighborhood of just under a grand on liquor and beer.
Quite naturally, I was tasked with bringing the cheese.
And bring it, I did.
On the eve of our departure for the seven-and-a-half-hour drive to Boise, I clocked off from my shift and then went shopping in my own department. I tasked myself with finding a representation of good Pacific Northwestern cheeses that my family might appreciate—most of them would be coming from Arizona and Colorado, with a handful trickling in from Maine, South Dakota, and Utah.
I picked up Sleeping Beauty, a natural-rinded tomme from Cascadia Creamery in Trout Lake, Washington; Pluvius, a natural-rind cheese that follows a blue-cheese recipe but has no blue mold in it, from Willapa Hills Farmstead Cheese in Chehalis, Washington; and Sunset Bay, that stunning paprika-line, mold-ripened goat cheese from River’s Edge Chèvre in Oregon.
I also sprang for a few of my own favorites. I selected a super-ripe wheel of spruce-bark wrapped brie-style Harbison from Vermont’s Cellars at Jasper Hill. And then I picked up a beautiful, beer-washed wheel of Willoughby, also from Jasper Hill Creamery and Cellars.
The rest I knew I could get from Trader Joe’s down in Boise (French Brie, Cantal, Italian Cheese with Truffles, Double Cream Gouda, Cotswold, Cambozola, and Dèlice de Bourgogne). I also packed along a few pieces of cheese that Sartori had sent me in a care package to help study for the CCP: a wedge of Black Pepper Bellavitano, one of Chipotle Bellavitano, and one of Sartori’s Aged Goat.
All this cheese, plus a few packets of Metropolitan Market’s private label charcuterie (black pepper salame and Italian dry salame), a jar of orange fig spread, a jar of marionberry habanero jelly, some dried figs, a selection of dried fig-and-nut and apricot-and-almond cakes, and a variety of crackers. I even brought my own cheese board and knives.
There was a lot of hype about my cheese (rightly so, cheese). People were curious about what I had brought.
The wheel of Willoughby smelled so strong in our hotel-room refrigerator, even sealed into a Ziploc bag, that my dad walked around, making everyone smell it, to induce reactions and continue hyping this mythical cheese and wine night that I was supposed to put on.
Once everyone had smelled the Willoughby, we’d run out of beer, and my little cousin had gotten hitched and gone off on her honeymoon in Philly, it was time for cheese night.
One of my cousins was staying in an AirBnB, so they hosted us there. I used the kitchen to set up two platters, because my cheese collection was so big it didn’t fit on one. Then, we laid them out on the dining room table, and suddenly I was called upon to give a talk about my cheeses.
So I did. I told everyone a little bit about each of the cheeses, suggested they start with the younger, fresher, and bloomy-rind cheeses first, then go on to the hard cheeses, the stinky cheeses, and finally the single blue cheese. I suggested pairings with the jams and things I’d brought, but also proclaimed the need for creativity in trying new things.
And then everyone dug in. (And by everyone, I mean there were only 15 of the original 25 adults left in Boise by this point.)
It was a huge success, I’d like to think.
The best part? When everyone was asked which cheese they’d liked the best, the vast majority said, “actually, I really liked the stinky one.”
Everyone was super intrigued by the story behind Pluvius. I think they enjoyed it, but it didn’t seem to come out at the top of anyone’s list of favorites.
The Black Pepper and Chipotle Bellavitanos were up there on the list, as was the Cotswold. No surprise there.
But Willoughby, the sleeper hit, smelled way “worse” than it tasted.
The pinky-orange rinded stinker is delightfully unctuous, beefy, creamy, a little herbaceous, and just a tiny bit salty.
I won’t lie, it was the second wheel of Willoughby I bought this year, from the same batch.
It was a long-anticipated batch for me. Everyone else on the internet had gotten theirs in and was blogging and instagramming about them. My single case of six precious wheels came almost six weeks later.
(I anticipated it so much, that is, that I made an awkward “unboxing” video of my first wheel, which is really hard to do with only one hand.)
While my family got to face their fears of this cheese’s bark by tasting its delightful bite on French bread and 34 Degrees crackers (whole wheat and chocolate!), I recently found this cheese’s true calling: melted on a hot, juicy burger with sautéed mushrooms, onions, a little bit of Dijon mustard, a dollop of barbecue sauce, and a teaspoon of pickle relish.
(There’s one left in the case now; I might have to buy it, too.)