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Feb 19, 2020

Competitive Cheesemongering: Carline

THE STORY:

Given that the name of the blog is A Year in Fromage, sometimes I just need to write about more cheese. And it's probably not possible to find more "more cheese" to write about than at the Cheesemonger Invitational -- a combination cheese-expert competition and cheese-eating extravaganza in San Francisco (and also NYC, Chicago, and other lucky cities). With both cheeses and cheese experts from around the world, it is educational and entertaining, and an intensely delicious and filling way to spend an afternoon and evening.



An enormous warehouse is laid out with tables which are loaded down with cheese. So. Much. Cheese. There are local artisanal cheeses, craft cheeses from around the country, imported cheeses from overseas (of course France among them), cheese-based gourmet bites and cheese-friendly gourmet food products.




There's this -- what just might be the single most beautiful cheese I've ever seen. And that's saying something. Behold the sheep and cow cheese, separated by a layer of vegetable ash, called Slate Ridge, a Nettle Meadow Artisan Cheese made in Warrensburg, NY. And yes, it's quite delicious. I love the distinct flavors as well as colors of the cheeses, which are sweet, salty, strong, crumbly, and very earthen.



I love this thyme and goat-cheese custard infused gougère.



But I'm not so crazy about this Asian-cheese fusion bite which, I must admit, I have to throw out. Having lived in Japan and lived in France, I truly love both Japanese food and stinky cheeses like Chaumes. But not together. Never together.



This one is a blackberry, sausage, cheese, candied nut bite that I sort of enjoy, but frankly it's at the end of the night so I'm not really all that excited about any more food by this point. That's my own fault, though, not the gourmet bite's. Another one involves cheese, sausage, dried fruit, and chocolate.



There are stickers and swag, and unlimited amounts of cheese to taste.


I do my best to reach my goal of sampling everything there is, but I realize early on that I will fail. So I start to get picky, following these main criteria:

  • What have I never tasted before?
  • What is French and really on-theme for me, personally?
  • What is unusual and new to me?
  • What just looks totally irresistible, and all other rules be damned?

It's not exactly a foolproof system, and I still end up overeating, but it's the best I can do. I walk out of there groaning and at one point when I get home, I actually utter to my husband the phrase "I will never eat cheese again" which we both know to be patently ridiculously. But I must say that it's a good couple weeks before I do eat any more cheese. I am that stuffed.





You know how I know that  I'm not the only one obsessed by cheese -- besides the throngs of people at the event? And how I know that San Franciscans are really crazy for cheese? The competition/smorgasbord is held the same day as a major football game in which the local team, the 49ers, would play and ultimately qualify for the Superbowl. One wall of the converted warehouse has an enormous screen with the game playing. Absolutely not one person watches the screen. I never hear a cheer or a groan of frustration....until the emergence of the cheesemongering finalists, chosen from previous rounds of behind-closed-doors testing including written tests, taste and aroma tests, and more. During the speed cheese-cutting round, the finalists on stage try to eyeball and cut a piece of cheese exactly .34lbs (in case you're wondering: it's Gruyère). When the scale hits .33 or .35, the crowd groans so loudly it sounds like a field of cattle. When the scale hits .34 exactly -- a rare feat, I must tell you -- the entire place erupts in cheers. It is deafening. And sweetly, strangely supportive. It sort of strikes me as funny just what human beings can do to create both competition and community: hey, let's curdle some milk then see who can cut it into the exact-right weight! They don't just cut the cheese (the worst pun, ever, but it can't be helped in this case); they also have a speed-wrapping contest, and create gourmet cheese bites, beautiful cheese platters, and creative wine/beverage pairings for public consumption. If you're a food-obsessed cheese lover, this very-nearly-annual event is really for you.

When the list of winners are announced, this woman -- who is not actually a contestant -- actually weeps tears of joy. I'm telling you: these people really care about cheese. They are my people.



Back to the subject of cows: here's the founder of the competition and the MC for the night, Adam Moskowitz. We cheese-lovers take cheese seriously, but not ourselves.



By the end of the night, I must admit that I have to stop eating cheese and down a few orange slices just to have something fresh and acidic to cut through all the cream coursing through my veins.



THE CHEESE: Carline

Carline is a heated-but-not-pasteurized sheep's milk cheese made in La Cavalerie, which is a small village in the heart of Les Grands Causses, a huge forested regional park in Southern France, in the region of Occitanie, just off the Mediterranean coast. This hard cheese is crafted by a dairy cooperative called Les Bergers du Larzac and imported into the United States by award-winning, master cheese ager Rodolphe Le Meunier. Though it's not pasteurized, it's legal to be imported and sold in the US because it is a hard cheese, aged over 60 days. 


The taste of the unpasteurized cheese is nuttier and heartier than many of its pasteurized counterparts. In terms of both geography and taste, it's clearly related to other great regional sheep cheeses like Grands Causses. Like its cousin cheese, the crust here is really not for the faint of heart: It's thick and almost a little bit furry. So while the crust is indeed edible, it's not necessarily enjoyable, and even I am inclined to skip it.


There is some confusion about the cheese, in particular the name: Carline is also the name of a totally different cows' milk cheese, made by a different cheesemaker in a different region, with no relation. To further confuse matters, there is an organic cooperative store called Carline that does sell both cow and sheeps' milk cheeses, but not any called Carline.

THE CONNECTION:



Though Carline does not come from a cow, or a man in a cow-costume, I first encounter and taste this Rodolphe Le Meunier French cheese at the Cheesemonger Invitational in San Francisco, sitting there alongside other French imports like Adarre Reserve, Mimolette, Fromage d'Ossau, and more. I probably hit this booth about 1/3 of the way towards total gluttony so I am still -- just barely -- hungry enough to enjoy it.

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