Signs of the Golden Age
If you are living the dairy lifestyle, you know that October is American Cheese Month. It’s a month devoted to celebrating artisan cheese made in the United States. Ten years ago, compiling a cheese board of local cheeses from your area would have required some serious foraging and pillaging, but now the Golden Era has arrived. You are probably making some Camembert in your desk drawer.
Here are some things you should know about the cheese world right now, especially if you are thinking about hosting a cheese party and making Gatsby-esque conversation:
- Statistics for quoting: A Vermonter named Jeff Roberts has been keeping tabs on cheese growth in America. According to his records, there are over 400 certified artisan cheesemakers in the U.S. currently, up from 150 in 2000. Shaboom!
- Media for your coffee table: New cheeses aren’t just relegated to write-ups in trade magazines; Culture, which debuted in 2009, is the Bon Appetit of cheese — think: recipes, travels, profiles. It’s a great source for discovering the next must-eat morsel.
- Cheese podcasts for your kitchen: No cheesemonger has done more for American cheese than Anne Saxelby, a girl from Illinois who moved to Manhattan and opened up a dinky but divine cheese stand devoted solely to American cheese in Essex St. Market. Her weekly radio show, Cutting the Curd, is essential for the ears.
If you want to celebrate the Golden Age this month, I suggest you cash in your change jar and blow it on an intoxicating cheese board. Invite some lactose tolerant friends, tell them to bring some local beer or hard cider, then binge.
Here are a few tips for scouting local cheese:
- Find your local cheese shop: The American Cheese Society offers a list of cheese shops participating in American Cheese Month. See if there’s a participating store in your area and ask about specials and the American Cheese of the Day. Chances are, they’ll carry local cheese, too. If not, spank them.
- Scope out farmers’ markets: Go to your local farmers’ market and look for the guy with the smoothest face — cheesemakers tend not to have beards because who wants to wear a beard net when they cut curds? Lady cheesemakers will have their hair tied back — and very nice skin. (Just sayin': dairy leads to milky features.) Also, many cheesemakers run farm stores on their property, a perfect place to buy direct.
- Surf dairy-centric chains: Whole Foods and Wegmans may not advertise that they carry local cheese, but my super sleuthing always leads to a few local selections in their cases. Ask their trained cheesemongers to point out wedges from your area. I prefer not to buy pre-cut cheese because you never know how long it’s been sitting around, but I value the fact that these chain stores source locally.
Wondering about the cheese board in the first picture? It includes some favorite local cheeses, plus one import I can’t live without. Here’s what we’ve got: Amazing Acres Banon, Cherry Grove’s Full Nettle Jack, Hillacres Pride Arcadia, and Cremifacto Verde Capra.