I adore cheese and cheese has quite the attraction to my hips and thighs – so I’m cautious with it.   Wanting to learn more, I took my first cheese class, an introductory tasting workshop called Cheese 101 at Whole Foods Market Baton Rouge.  (They offer over 300 cheeses…have mercy!)

The session was led by Annie Laurie, a CCP – Certified Cheese Professional (which is somewhat like a sommelier for cheese).  Her breath of knowledge was impressive. We explored 6 cheeses:

Tender and savoury, Le Petit Brie (fabulous)

Complex flavored, vegetable ash covered, Canadian goat’s milk cheese, Le Cendrillon (not to my liking…at all)

image: cheeseandtoast.com

Crumbly and slightly acidic, English cow’s milk, Stilton Blue Cheese (lovely)

Image: stiltoncheese.co.uk

Smooth and nutty, Spanish sheep’s milk cheese, Manchega (yummy, yum yum)
Image: prweb.com

Deep rich flavored, Reserve Gouda (slammin’)
Image: cheeseandchampagne.com

And my favorite of the collection, a smooth buttery sheep’s milk cheese from Cypress Grove Chevrecalled Lamb Chopper.  

Image: cypressgrovechevre.com

We learned about the different categories, origin/regions of the cheeses, how they are made and best served, pairing recommendations and cool stories of about the makers of some of the brands tasted.  

Three of my personal takeaways…
  1. Bold stinky cheeses rule. I typically purchase mild, newer cheeses and then eat/use a boatload of it. When the cheese is stronger, you don’t need as much. Knowing my appetite, I doubted this, but as we went thru the tasting, in each case a small bite or two was sooo enjoyable and all I wanted.  Anything more would have been overkill. Quality over quantity will automatically balance taste vs calories for me.
  2. Let cheese come well into room temperature before eating (about 2 hours).  When cheese is chilly, the flavors are subdued and they tend to taste more salty.
  3. When serving/enjoying cheese, consider the intent.  If you want to showcase the cheese, use simple wafers or plain french bread.  Crackers with a lot of flavor or topped with salt/seeds etc compete with the cheese.

The tasting was topped off with a little grilled cheese sandwich – grilled Truffle Gouda cheese sandwich. Yes indeed.  It was amazing!  Katie, a Whole Foods Cheese Specialist, made them in the coolest way.

Usually, when a grilled cheese is made, the bread is spread with butter (or some kind of oil) and/or the sandwich is smooshed or cooked on some kind of a press till the cheese melts and gets all oowey gooey good.  However, the butter adds a saltiness and competing flavor, and the press changes the light texture of the bread.

Instead of starting with the bread, she shaved off a thin slice of the Truffle Gouda and laid it directly in a non-stick skillet on low and heated it gently until melted.  (Not liquefied or browned, just lightly melted.) As it heats, the cheese releases a bit of it’s fat into the pan.  She slid the cheese on top a small round of crusty french bread, covered it with another round and nestled the sandwich in the bit of cheese oil in the pan and let it cook until slightly toasted.

It was just those two items – the sharp and beautifully flavored cheese and rounds of crispy/chewy on the outside soft on the inside French bread, uncompromised by added ingredients or processes.  The sandwich was absolutely lovely and a little bit did it.  The sandwich rounds for the tasting were about 2” in diameter, but the flavor was so full and complex. It did me just fine.  I’m definitely going to try the method.

BTW – The Lamb Chopper was my favorite, but the Goudas got me.  Before leaving the store, I purchased small pieces of 2 varieties of Gouda for stand-alone enjoyment, a small piece of 1 yr old Manchega and a bit of 2 yr old Parmesano Reggiano for grating into frittatas and over pasta this week.
I’m thoroughly enjoying exploring the wonderfulness of food.  Thanks to the Women’s Council of Greater Baton Rouge for this Women’s Week class offering.

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