There were so many dairy celebs at the Fancy Food Show in D.C. on Sunday, I found myself gulping for air. While everyone else was crowded around Rick Bayless, who was dousing shrimp in a new packaged sauce, I was holding my breath before one cheese luminary after another. Here are the highlights:
1. I beheld the Cashel Couple.
Here they are, Sarah Grubb and Sergio Furno, makers of Cashel Blue, a cheese so sumptuous it should be called frosting. Sarah's mother invented the recipe, and now Sarah and Sergio have become dairy olympiads; they won gold at the World Cheese Awards in 2006 and 2010.
Big fat gossip: Cashel Blue has been picked up by Kerrygold, (the Irish butter butter magnate), and I expect there'll be a wild marketing campaign. I hope. If only all the butter lovers would learn to embrace blue cheese. Pssst...Cashel is great for shmearing on bread, on oaty biscuits, even wrists.
2. I tasted the Lord of Hundreds.
My new favorite cheese. Look at the rind.
This ewe's milk dream is so pretty, it has a manager, the lovely Ann-Marie Dyas of The Fine Cheese Co. in Bath, England (she's also a judge at the British Cheese Awards).
You probably know the crackers made by this company.
They seem to worship cheese through their very packaging, and Ann-Marie was no different. She had me laughing about a cheese named Rachel -- after the cheesemaker's girlfriend, now his ex. She showed me his picture, then scuttled under a table and dug out some quince caviar for an impromtpu tasting.
3. I glimpsed Paula Lambert.
But I didn't get a chance to chat. She was elbow-deep in fans, sampling her goat cheeses from Texas. Paula is a pioneer. She began making cheese back in the '80s and is known for bringing the first real Italian mozzarella to Dallas. She simply made it herself.
Look at this spread. I still fantasize about Paula's Hoja Santa, a leaf-wrapped muffin that once appeared before me on the cheese cart at the Four Seasons.
4. I sampled Sgt. Pepper.
Mary Keehn of Cypress Grove Dairy in California has a new line of "flashback" goat cheeses that call to mind Ben & Jerry's. Rolled in four kinds of pepper, Sgt. Pepper has a trippy look to it and tastes like just the sort of cool, fresh bite you'd want on a roadtrip. It was positioned next to four other flashbacks, including PsycheDillic and Purple Haze.
5. I met a bicycle enthusiast who makes cheese.
Alan Glustoff from Port Chester, NY makes great raw milk cheese with some interesting branding. At 5 Spoke Creamery, he brings together wheels and wheels -- think cheese, then bicycles -- to promote the simple pleasures of eating and sidewinding.
I'd never tried this rustic number (and I'm embarrassed to say, I forgot its name), but I left the booth curious to try more. Luckily, I see its available at Philadelphia's Essene Market.
6. I discovered my first Puerto Rican cheese.
Quesos Vaca Negra claims to be the first company to produce aged artisan cheese from Puerto Rico. I believe it -- I was there in January and couldn't find a single local variety at the market.
Cheesemaker Wanda Otero studied cheesemaking in the U.S. and now produces 5 cave-aged cheeses. It will be interesting to see how her new business progresses. This is her first year.
7. I tried all of Rogue Creamery's blues.
I've been such a fan of Rogue River Blue, and I had no idea that this Oregon company produced a whole line. Their newest, Flora Nelle, tastes like pecans. It's sharp, sweet, nutty -- just wonderful. It's also the company's first pasteurized blue.
This surprised me. Overall, pasteurized cheeses in America seem to be gaining complexity. What's the secret?
8. I spent five hours feasting.
I couldn't believe the array of cheeses, the coolers full of wheels, the generosity of so many makers. I can still taste some of my favorites. Like Kunik.
And these tiny hand-made cheeses, called Hannahbells. They look like gumdrops and taste like marshmallow morsels.
And these succulent gems, from Vermont Cheese & Butter Co., where I met the oh so lovely Adeline Durant. My photos are a bit blurry. You can tell I was hurrying to maximize every mouthful.I was so happy to see Saxon Creamery, too. They make one of my favorite wheels from Wisconsin, Big Eds.
And that was all I could stomach. Now the countdown begins for the American Cheese Society Conference in Montreal, Aug.3-6.