Food and Health Archive

Great Cheeses from ACS 2012: Part 1

Friday, August 24th, 2012

I am only mentioning cheeses that are new to me here because – as anyone there can attest – there were too many awesome cheeses for one person to blog about. My versions of these from past years are still pretty much valid, so check those out as well if you want.

Here is a list of things that got my attention at ACS 2012.

Ist runner up Best of Show
Valley Shepherd — Crema de Blue

I had never heard of this cheese or cheese company before the judging. I love it that a cheese like this can be recognized in a competition this big. It speaks well to the competition and shows how important a blind judging is to reward less well-known cheeses. Crema de Blue is – like the Flagsheep – a mixed milk cheese, sheep and cow. As the name would imply it is rich and creamy with a very well-balanced blue flavor, assertive, but not overpowering the milkiness of the cheese. I love natural rinded blues! Again, wish I could get my hands on this one.

2nd runner up Best of Show
Emmi Roth USA — Roth Grand Cru Surchoix

This is kind of a previous Best in Show winner. Under a slightly different name (“Roth Kase — Grand Cru Gruyère Surchoix”) this same basic cheese won it all in 1999. Since Emmi owns a company with actual name-controlled Gruyere in Switzerland (as well as Cypress Grove Chevre in California), they are moving away from calling their Wisconsin version by that name, which I do think is admirable. Whatever they called it, they make one of the most solid alpine-style cheeses in the country. They even imported those cheese flipping robots (which one is not allowed to photograph in their warehouse!) which are just about the coolest cheese thing ever.

Sequatchie Cove Farm — Dancing Fern

This is the one cheese I voted for in my personal top 3 which didn’t make the Best of Show/Runners up list. This is the best American version of a Reblochon that I have ever tasted. Reblochon is, for the most part, illegal in the US because it is made with raw milk and aged less than 60 days. The imported pasteurized versions just do not satisfy. While I often buy a larger format, legally-raw-milk version made in France, it is great to see one made closer to home… and from a farmstead, pasture-based dairy no less!

Made in Tennessee, this is just one of the amazing Southern cheeses that are super hard to get outside the South. I am so glad the ACS decided to go to Raleigh this year (even though it was the 2nd straight year on the East Coast) because it really let those of us who live far away get exposed to great cheese we may not know about otherwise. (And hey, I’ll be back in the South in October for the Southern Artisan Cheese Festival in Nashville! Tickets go on sale this week)

If you are local, we actually have some of this cheese in the store right now… but probably not for long.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

American Cheese Society 2012: Judging

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Whenever I get a chance to be a cheese judge at the American Cheese Society Conference, I grab it. I really do love it. I am honored to be asked – and that is part of it – but I love it mostly because it is pure cheese: just me, my mouth, and 1771 anonymous cheeses.

Of course I don’t have to taste all 1771 (or whatever a given year’s number is). Judges only have to taste around two hundred: one hundred assigned via category, then another hundred that won their class and are competing for Best of Show. Still, it’s a lot of cheese over the course of two days. I am not complaining, however. Not at all.

I have written about judging before, but every competition has its own merits. Many cheese judgings use the 4H method, which is non-numerical. There are variations but usually judges taste and then (in their heads) rate the cheese before announcing “Gold,” “Silver,” “Bronze,” or “No award.” If judges are unanimous on “Gold”, the cheese is awarded “Double Gold” and those go into consideration for Best of Show.

Other competitions are scored technically. Dairy scientists are looking for perfect versions of a cheese by type. You have never seen Wisconsin dairy science folks excited until you see them hotly debating the merits of the Colby category!* Technically perfect cheese usually wins these competitions whether or not they are complex or powerful.

At ACS the technical judges are teamed up with aesthetic judges (cheese professionals who are not dairy scientists) in a good cop/bad cop situation. Technical judges start from 50 and grade down for mistakes. Aesthetic judges start from zero and award points for positive attributes. In this way a cheese may even get deductions and positive points for the same flavor attribute. An extremely sweet Cheddar, for example, may lose a little for not being classic, but may gain a lot if that aesthetic judge sees value in its unusual flavor attributes. This means that both technical cheesemaking and innovation can be rewarded in the same contest. It is also why cheese with big flavors usually wins Best of Show.

I have seen critiques of the ACS judging for this reason. I don’t believe that a technically perfect fresh mozzarella, for example, has ever come close to winning Best of Show. It can win its category, but BoS winners are usually in the Alpine family, blue category, washed-rinds, or aged: in other words, the big flavored cheeses.

(Sorry, Little Guy)

Which makes perfect sense since the ACS was set up to support cheesemakers making innovative cheese. Almost every cheese that has won in the last decade has been a cheese that, upon tasting, a customer at some point has asked me, incredulously, “That cheese was made in the US?” This comment – once an every day occurrence – is dying out these days as people realize the breadth of cheese styles now being made extremely well in this country. And I think the ACS competition has played a part in that growing awareness.

The other thing I love about the ACS competition is how seriously people take it. I mean sure, my fellow judge and I did make some cheese animals out of pasty, non-winning cheese, but the judging itself, and the writing of commentary on the judging form was our priority. Also, unlike other judgings I have taken part in where – embarrassingly and unprofessionally — people openly discussed the cheesemakers and their history (“Leticia’s*** cheese has gotten so much better over the years. I know she has a new aging room now and it really shows”), that would just not be tolerated at ACS. If the judging committee didn’t notice it, other judges would.****

Lastly, what everyone – retailers, cheesemakers, cheese eaters reading this etc. — needs to keep in mind is that we can only judge the cheese in the room. I had a cheese that I usually love that was not at its best last week. As a cheese seller of many years, there is no way not to recognize the distinctive characteristics of some cheese, even if I actively avoid acknowledging I recognize it to my fellow judge or letting it sway me, good or bad. On a normal day, I know that cheese to be better than what I tasted in that judging room, just like I know that some winners never tastes as good when I try to order it for the store. Come to think of it, that would be an awesome contest too: a consistency competition where the same cheeses are tasted in, say, 6 different batches over the course of the year. But in this judging, we can only judge what is in front of us.

Anyways, I will post tomorrow about some of the great cheeses and winners at this year’s competition, but today I just wanted to set the stage. Judging. It’s awesome.

*I will be mocked by my Wisconsin friends for this, but until I judged I never thought of Colby as anything other than mild Cheddar. Since then, I just pretend there’s a difference.**

**Kidding! Kind of!

***Obviously this is a name chosen because it was not one of the actual name used. In this way I am remembering Leticia’s restaurant on Market St. whose closing has left a little hole in our hearts.

****I am still kicking myself for not reacting strongly enough at one non-ACS judging. After loudly discussing every cheese’s origin as they judged it, one individual came to one that they didn’t recognize and asked me if I knew what it was. I responded, “Why do you need to know who made it to judge it?” They responded to me, “Why do you think that would affect my scores?” I didn’t realize that “blind judging” was an ambiguous term.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

Gordonzola’s Humble Suggestions for Getting the Most out of the Cheese Conference

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

I’ve lost track of how many ACS conferences I have attended. I pretty sure I have attended every one not on the East Coast since 1999. Almost universally, they have been awesome experiences that have taught me innumerable things about cheese and introduced me to people I otherwise might never have met.

Back when I first started going, there were only about 300 people attending the conferences but still, I didn’t know anyone except for a handful of California cheesemakers. While I am sometimes good about faking it, I am actually kind of shy by nature, so I am humbly going to attempt to produce a guide that I would have found useful back in the day.

I’m sure this advice will be weighted to the independent urban retailer, but hopefully others will find it helpful as well. I have never had obligatory parties to attend* or – except when the conference was in Cotati and San Francisco – co-workers to divide the day with so I’ve always had to figure out how to get the most of the events on my own. I’m sure I can’t come up with everything so, Cheese Folks, feel free to add suggestions in the comments.

Social Tips:

1. Say Hi and Introduce Yourself.
I know this is basic, but this is what the conference is for. Talk to strangers. ACS has really made this easier with both the “Meet the Cheesemaker” and “New Attendees” events. Even meeting a cheesemaker for a few minutes means that they may remember you if you call for advice or to warn them that there is something odd about a wheel you just received. Plus. This is a small world. You may see them at an event 6 months down the line where you are the only cheese people in a crowd of wine snobs and food bloggers and you will need each other for support. I have started lifelong friendships by things like striking up a conversation while waiting to wash my hands in the bathroom.

2. But Don’t Be Creepy
Cheesemakers are the rock stars of our world. Like teenager groupies, we extol their every effort behind our cheese counters. Saying something concrete about how you admire their work is awesome. “I really think your cheese has a complexity that people aren’t appreciating enough.” Asking questions is awesome, “So how many cows do you have anyway?” However, fawning is creepy.

3. Respect Cultural Differences
While cheese gatherings tend to be even whiter than anarchist gatherings, there are definitely cultural differences between the rural and urban folks there. I live in a city and work in an environment where talking fast and loud is valued. ** Also, I’m a Northern Californian so oversharing is second nature. Many people at the conferences may see livestock a lot more than people. Slow it down (which is not the same as “dumbing it down”), be respectful, and meet halfway. Actually, meet them more than halfway. This is the primarily the cheesemakers’ conference, not yours.

4. Don’t try to Impress Anyone
I won’t name any names here, but those of us who have been going to ACS for awhile can all remember people who came on super strong asserting their cheese “knowledge” to everyone around them. Some people come in with only strong opinions and plenty of assumed privilege but without any sense of nuance. “XXXXXXX is the only blue cheese good enough for me to carry.” “All American Alpine-style cheeses but XXXXXX are crap.” Etc. Many of those folks are in other lines of work now. Just sayin’…

Official Events

1. Choosing Panels
I wouldn’t tell you which panels to go to, but I know that I always try to go to panels that are over my head. For example – while there are a lot of very good cheese science books out there now that non-scientists and cheesemakers can read — there were not when I first started going to ACS. I loved going to the panels that were just cheesemakers and dairy scientists arguing about things I was not near understanding. It helped (as much as possible) give me humility and made me realize how much I didn’t know about cheese. That’s a helpful reminder when most of us will know more than most of our customers after about a month of training.*** Remember to be respectful of the level of knowledge the panel assumes and who the panel is geared for. If the panel is discussing the specific flavor attributes and potential problems associated with secondary cultures in pasteurized cheese, for example, don’t ask, “What is cheese culture?” Keep your mouth shut. Soak up what you can. And do some research on your own when you get home.

Also, I differ from like 90% of you in that I decided long ago that I do not like the booze/cheese pairing workshops at ACS. It is just too big a crowd and moves to slowly for me so I never attend them even though they are always the hottest ticket. Don’t be afraid to find your own path. (Plus, getting completely drunk at the early afternoon Bourbon/Cheese pairings**** workshop at the 2001 ACS made me miss the tour of the Louisville Slugger Factory.)

2. Vote with your Feet
The ACS conference is expensive. Don’t waste your time. If a panel is bad, boring or just not geared to your needs, leave and go to another one. As a panelist, I hate this, but I understand it. Of course, I am not the kind of panelist who is using the ACS to give an infomercial. If you feel like a panel is not about sharing information but merely self-promotion, you have my blessing to leave loudly in a huff.

3. Let Your Cheese Mind Wander
Staying in a panel that is not your thing has its advantages if you do not want to vote with your feet. Sometimes just one sentence or concept has sparked great ideas for improving our department. The reason we go to ACS is that it is a cheese-rich environment. Just going there and being around the cheese community can give you profound insight. When something comes to you, write it down. At one boring panel, I made a complete draft for a new kind of cheese signage for our coolers. I might never have done that bogged down in the day-to-day back home.

4. Take Notes.
I know you think you’ll remember everything, but you won’t. There is just too much. Plus, you get great tidbits like this that will make you laugh years down the line:

The French person on the panel talked about cheese sitting out on display and getting oily. One has to factor in the amount of lost weight and flavor in this situation and calculate pricing for (literal) shrink. He has a fairly heavy accent so after he bemoaned the loss my co-worker elbowed me and said, “Did he just say that cheese losing moisture is like a butterfly escaping?”

“No he said it was butterfat escaping”

“Oh, but that was so poetic.”

5. Volunteer
Some reading are already ready to mock me for this one since volunteering at ACS can be kind of a mixed bag. Let me mention first that a new management team is organizing the conferences so my previous experience is not indicative of future activity. I have had great times volunteering to plate for tastings and to cut for the Festival of Cheese***** Plus, at those things you get to meet the hard workers instead of the pretentious and flaky. If I don’t know anyone, give me some people to work on a big production project on and we will be friends for life in two hours. Just make sure you ask questions and know what you are getting yourself into. I am, frankly, still bitter about the time I was asked to deliver “a few” cases of beer to an event and it turned out to be 80 cases to two different venues, one of which didn’t have an elevator to get to the beer drop off spot. We missed lunch and the next panel!

Extra Curricular Activities

1. Visit Farms and Cheesemakers in the Area of the Conference
ACS is a busy time for the locals but it is also the time that they are expecting visitors, for the most part. Scheduling an extra day or two to the trip may seem like a hardship to your business, but it is invaluable to your ongoing cheese knowledge. For example, your regional cheesemakers may have different traditions, water use issues, equipment, philosophies, etc. than those in another region. As a Californian, when am I ever going to be in North Carolina again? Make use of the plane fare you’ve already spent. I don’t have to mention NEVER go to someone’s farm without asking first, do I?

2. Go to the Bar
This is the unofficial center of the conference. Everyone meets here on their way to dinner, everyone hangs out here after they come back. Some people actually never make it to dinner. You don’t need to drink alcohol, but this is the best chance to really get to know people and learn things about them that you probably shouldn’t talk about over the cheese counter. Do I have to say though, that no one likes a sloppy, bitter drunk? Take yourself away if you feel the need to start complaining about your boss or other people who are known in the small, small world of cheese. Oh and remember some people may actually be having business meetings here so ask if it’s ok to join people before you set up camp.

3. Dinner
This is a tricky one. Going out with folks to a nice meal is a great way to meet people. But, more than once, I have ended up going out with folks and spent way too much money. My co-op does not pay for my meals on these kinds of trips and when you find yourself picking a restaurant with folks who are on expense accounts, things can be awkward. Especially when people want to drink a lot of booze and then split the check evenly. When feeling particularly broke, I have definitely ordered an appetizer and then stopped by a liquor store later for a potato chip and Lil Debbie’s dinner. If you are at ACS on your own dime, just be aware than not everyone else is.

4. Taste
This is the most fun part of the conference. Taste everything offered to you. Taste it alone. Taste with pairings. Taste at official events. Taste at the bar. Taste warm cheese out of dirty backpacks. It’s all good. Take notes on this too, because there is no way you’ll remember the nuance of 200 different cheeses when you get home. BTW, one of my proudest professional moments is that I’m in the Cheese Nun documentary for about 5 seconds and I am taking notes at the Festival of Cheese, not mugging for the camera.

My Best Advice for the Conference

1. My best advice is really pretty simple. Enjoy being part of the cheese community. There are not a lot of us around so enjoying being around the thousand or so who are obsessed enough to travel around the country to seek it out. Sure, there is business being done and shady stuff in the corners, but soak in the pure beauty of cheese. It will keep you going throughout the year.

*The poignant lyrics of Dead Kennedys come to mind here. From “Well Paid Scientist”: Company cocktails-gotta go
Say the right thing
Don’t fidget, jockey for position
Be polite
In the pyramid you hate
Sip that scotch
Get that raise
This ain’t no party at all

** Recently a NY-based distributor complimented me on being the only person not in NY who he could talk full speed to. Heh.

***That shows how much more understanding about cheese the public is, btw. A decade ago I would have said a day of training would give a new cheese worker more info that most of our customers.

****Plus, I didn’t think any of the pairings actually worked.

*****Nearly two decades of cheese work means that my repetitive stress injuries prevent me from doing this anymore, but I would if I could.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

New facebook page

Monday, March 26th, 2012

I started a new facebook page because during vacation it dawned on me that I really wish I hadn’t given the “Cheesemonger” facebook page the name of my book. For one reason, it’ll be confusing when my next book comes out. For another, it’s embarrassing commenting on other people’s facebooks as “Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge”.

Unfortunately, you can’t change the name of a page once it’s set up.

Soooo, I created a new facebook which will mirror everything on that other one for awhile, but eventually “Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge” will become dormant. It’d be awesome if you liked this new page.


cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

When Cheese Goes Bad

Monday, December 12th, 2011

There are times of the year I associate with bad cheese. Usually it is after a holiday, when a distributor has bought too much of something perishable that didn’t sell. Buyers are alerted to these deals with flyers titled things like “Hot Sheet”, “Killer Deals”, and “Margin Builders.” This is definitely risky buying for the most part. You can make good money and still put things out cheap, but when these go bad, they go bad in a hurry.

The week after Thanksgiving can be one of those weeks. So, I was quite surprised when I had a week of bad cheese, and none of it from those kinds of sales. I don’t want to go into detail here (sorry), partially because I am still negotiating credit on some of this stuff. But instead of a “Gordon’s purely arbitrary cheese obsession of the week” entry, I was inundated with cheese that made my tongue hurt.

The first thing that was killer was about 200lbs of cheese that a distributor ordered and then – because of their own corporate machinations – sat on for two months without attempting to sell. The cheesemaker asked me, as a favor, if I would take it all and sell anything I could at whatever price I could. I was excited because I love this person’s cheese, and I figured anything salvageable could be amazing. Sadly, not of it was.

When I think of awful blue cheeses I think of bad Spanish Cabrales. Not good Cabrales, mind you. I love that. But when Cabrales gets too old it turns dark, even nearly black at times. The paste gets as hard and shardy as shale and it is too intense to even swallow. And of course I’ve tasted this. The difference between a cheese professional and a well informed cheese enthusiast is this: I have tasted almost every cheese at its best and at its worst. This salvage blue: probably the worst blue I’ve ever tasted.

Partly that’s because it started out strong but nice. When I first put it in my mouth I was thinking about calling the maker, encouraging them to age their cheese longer, even special ordering extra aged wheels and selling them as something like, I don’t know, Gordonzola Extra-Aged, Select Reserve Aged for Extra Time. The cheese trap was sprung. A moment after this fleeting thought, the cheese turned on me. What was strong became bitter. What was fruity became excess fermentation. What was butterfat became rancid. This was up their with bad Cabrales in intensity. This was a cheese I couldn’t spit out fast enough.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only bad cheese of the day. Another cheese, one of my favorites actually, came in like it was trying to trick us. Out of 24 wheels, only 3 were sellable. The three that were sellable were awesome and, unfortunately the one we tasted upon arrival was one of the few good ones so it wasn’t until we sold a few that we realized that there was something very, very wrong. Unlike the good examples, which were complex, rich, earthy, and awesome, the bad ones were diaper-smelly, bitter, cloying and intense.

This cheese – a department favorite – cast a pall over the rest of the day. We almost cried at the disappointment of its badness. This is a cheese that we all love to recommend when we have it. Its great potential turned to evil was a metaphor we didn’t want – or have time — to contemplate on the retail floor.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

Harley Farms Farm Dinner!

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

I’m going to see Dee Harley a lot this month. That’s awesome because she is truly one of my favorite cheese people. I can never get enough of her. That’s why I brought my parents to her farm as a present.

It was a Christmas present, actually. But the Harley Farms farm dinners are so popular that even though we arranged it in December the first available spot was May 7. Now that I’ve attended one, I see why!

Starting at 4 PM with a full tour of the farm, you really get a sense of how much love goes into the care of the goats and land, and how much effort goes into the cheesemaking. Here are my parents walking through a field of goats. They hadn’t yet discovered how much these beauties can pee and poop!

Here’s my dad trying to extricate himself from one curious lady:

We got to meet some milkers, the llamas, and some babies. Here’s Laurie pushing the head of a baby male goat. She said that they love that and she should know since she raised goats herself awhile back. I didn’t catch the names of these goats, but since they are males, let’s call them Birria and Meatloaf.

Then we got to go to the cheese room. Now, there are a million pictures of me in a hairnet. There’s even one on the top of my website. But I’d never gotten a picture of my parents in hairnets before. Thanks Laurie!

I suppose if I was really a food blogger instead of a cheese worker I would be giving you the details of the Harley Farm acreage, the number of goats, the volume of output and throwing lots of silly adjectives around. But I’m pretty sure I’ve done some version of that before and I don’t know whether people ever really read that stuff anyway. I know I don’t unless I’m making signs for the store. No, the thing to know about Harley is that it’s a small, sustainable farmstead dairy where the goats are well cared for and they make great fresh goat cheese.

After we tasted cheese, we went upstairs for the dinner. I meant to take pictures of the food, but I was having too good a time (and too much BYOB wine) to remember to pull out my camera. What did we eat? OMG. First, a warm carrot, beet, asparagus salad, with feta. Then goat cheese raviolis. This was followed by the main course of spring lamb with mint sauce. We finished with fresh, warm ricotta with strawberries. Everything was awesome. Even better was sitting around the big, hand-carved wooden table and meeting all the other folks who were in attendance. The Harley folks put on a great event.

If you are going between Santa Cruz and San Francisco on HWY 1 and don’t stop at the Farm Store (and at Duarte’s Tavern for ollalieberry pie) I don’t know what you are thinking.

But May is truly Dee Harley month for me. We will be together at the New Leaf Cheesemakers day (along with Garden Variety and Schoch Farm) on Sunday May 15 (New Leaf Community Market Westside 2-5, free) and then at the California Academy of Sciences NightLife event where I’ll be reading, Dee will be talking and there will be a ton of cheese to eat (Thursday May 26 in San Francisco, $12, $10 for members)

Read the original post on Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

There’s Always One

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Often, when I represent my co-op at events, there is one audience member who insists on being annoying. It usually has to do with their discomfort at the existence of an actual large democratically-run institution that is somehow at odds with their fantasy idea of what we should be.

Our existence by itself is political but that is often not enough for armchair philosophers. I suppose its fair for people to be mad at decisions we make, but in a democratic workplace of 230 people, I can’t give a definitive answer for why we made a decision, I can only say what issues some people brought up and that the majority decided. People, even leftists, buy-in subconsciously to the spin-speak of places with huge PR budgets. We are a democracy: messy, opinionated, and sometimes wrong. It’s unwieldy at times, but it is also our strength.

Recently, after being on a panel discussing alternative workplaces and the philosophy behind them, I was confronted by an audience member.

“You said you pay a living wage, how do you figure that?”

“Well, our starting wage is a couple of dollars over the official SF hourly rate.”

“San Francisco doesn’t have a living wage ordinance, it has a ‘minimum compensation’ ordinance* according to my calculations, a living wage would be $18 or $19 an hour.”

I pointed out that we have an unbelievable health plan free to workers, real profit sharing, discounts on food and numerous other benefits that make our wages even higher, but none of that was really the point and he didn’t seem interested. Because I was representing the co-op, Mr. Leftist simply couldn’t speak to me as a worker, he was speaking to me as the boss. He probably felt brave speaking truth to power and all that except that he wasn’t speaking truth and he wasn’t speaking to “power”.**

Of course, I was also exhausted since I had been working at 7 AM that morning and this conversation happened after 10 PM. You gotta love a conversation about work where it goes on too late for most people who work for a living to attend.

At another talk – actually one where I was doing a reading from my book –someone confronted me about “a friend” that once worked there and got fired and how they had all these criticisms of the co-op. Of course, I was at a disadvantage because 1. I didn’t know who they were talking about, 2. Even if I did, I might not know the situation and, 3. Even if I knew both those things, I certainly couldn’t talk about it in a public setting because it’s illegal. There are one of two cases in my 17 years at the co-op where the folks got fired and I disagreed with it, but in most of the other cases, people had it coming. If someone gets caught padding their timecard***or stealing they aren’t going to tell their friends that. They are going to say, “It’s not a real co-op.” “It’s a popularity contest.” Or some version of “I spoke truth to power.”

The funny thing is that there are certainly valid criticisms of our co-op. We have no real models for what we are doing and have made stuff up as we went along. We could have better systems for some things and we could have more actual democracy in some cases. One of the reasons I finally came around to opposing coupons**** is that I felt like it was affecting our internal democracy. Everyone was too tired and too busy to go to meetings.

But the bottom line is that we are not a philosophical wet dream of a worker co-op. We are an actual worker-coop: the biggest retail worker-coop in the country. I’m proud to work there, warts and all. It’s not a workers’ paradise, it’s a constant work in progress.

*I looked it up later and this is true. At the time of its implementation, the term “minimum compensation” was substituted for “living wage”. However, according to the we are still well above the number calculated in SF for a single person.
**To be fair, he was speaking to 1/230th of the power in the store.
***We operate on an honor system in many ways so offenses like padding time cards, giving out discounts to people not approved for them etc. are firing offenses.
****When I represent Rainbow publicly, discussions of why we stopped coupons are totally the new “Why don’t we boycott Israel?” And no I won’t discuss the second question here.
*****Clearly this whole entry (and anything on this website) is my opinion and I am not speaking for Rainbow here.

Read this article at its original source, Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

River’s Edge Chevre

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

So, I kinda promised Laurie this would be a no-cheese vacation, beyond what I brought for us to eat, of course.* However, when I realized we were very close to River’s Edge Chevre, I took a day off working on my new book proposal and went for a visit.

River’s Edge is absolutely one of my favorite American cheese makers. Not many folks are making ripened goat cheese of this quality in the U.S. Plus, they are a tiny, family-run, farmstead cheese operation. What is not to love?

Here are some lovely, young Humbug Mountains. We love these, though the “Up in Smoke” (fresh chevre wrapped in a bourbon-spritzed maple leaf) is the River’s Edge cheese we sell the most.
humbug mountain

Pat and her daughter Astraea were super accommodating to let me visit with basically no notice. Pat showed me around, Astraea made us fried-egg sandwiches, and then we ate a bunch of cheese. Without buying direct, my selection has been limited, but every single one of the cheeses were incredible in their own way. The St. Olga and the Astraea – neither of which I had tried for a long time – were tremendous harder, washed-rind cheeses that, honestly, I had forgotten all about.

I was in cheese heaven and they didn’t even have the Mayor of Nye Beach, which is – I think – one of the best 2 or 3 washed rind goat cheeses in the country.

You know what they did have though? A schnauzer.
Chevre-oriented Schnauzer

He was so cute and hairy that I wasn’t 100% sure, so I had to ask. I don’t remember Pat’s exact words, so I am going to make up a quote. “We don’t pretty up our Schnauzers out here in the country. Those foofy haircuts are for soft-pawed, city dogs.”**

Of course, they also had goats, some of the most beautiful milkers this soft-pawed, city boy has ever seen. They are a mature ad well-loved little herd.

We hung out for a while talking about tsunamis, floods, goats, organic dairy, dairy inspectors, and the cheese biz. There was so much good cheese I didn’t want to leave! Still, finally I started my wet drive back to our coastal rental.*** When I got back I discovered something very interesting.

It seems that all schnauzers like River’s Edge Chevre.
uh ohs!

*Pt Reyes Toma, French Comte, Australian Cheddar (aged 3 years), Beehive Barely Buzzed, Australian marinated Feta, and a wheel of P’tit Basque.
** Pat totally did not say this. I’m hoping she finds it amusing though.
***Favorite fun-fact of the day. The area we were staying in used to be known as the “Pat Boone Estates” because he was an original developer.
**** For a video of Pat making cheese, check out Cooking Up a Story.

Read the original post on Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

When In Oregon…

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

When I realized we had driven by Humbug Mountain and Nye Beach, I said to Laurie, “I bet River’s Edge Chevre is around here somewhere.” Today I went to visit. I’ll write a full entry when I can upload my pictures, but for now I’ll just say: awesome cheese, awesome people.

Here’s a cheese from River’s Edge at the Texas ACS:

Read the original post on Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

Evacuation from the Oregon Coast

Monday, March 14th, 2011

I was exhausted last night. I never sleep well on my first night of vacation (which we spent at a hotel) and our first night at our rental place on the Oregon coast was filled with trying to adjust the heat (down)* and adjust to sleeping on a smaller bed than we are used to.** So, when the property manager called us on the house’s landline at 12:30, we were both dead asleep.

I am a coastal boy at heart though, so when the property manager said a tsunami was heading straight for us, I fully admit panicking a little, assuming we had minutes, not hours. Either way, by the time I woke up enough to comprehend the warning, I knew I wouldn’t be going back to sleep, even if my first suggestion was, “Ok, the wave is supposed to hit at 7? Let’s pack, go back to bed, and set the alarm for 5.”

Instead, like many of you, we sat glued to the (well, one of the four) TV for the next few hours, watching those horrible Japan videos over and over and some very good local news from Portland. At around 4:30 the reverse 911 call told us to get up and get out and at 5 the tsunami sirens went off with recorded “evacuate immediately” messages. Cop cars roamed the streets looking to wake folks up. Both Laurie and I went back and packed a few more items into the car. After being lulled by hours of TV, the sirens gave us another hit of adrenaline and off we went to find the tsunami shelter.

If we were locals, we probably never would have left. Or we at least would have gone back to sleep for a bit.

Indeed, the noticeable absence of lights and rush from the neighbors gave me pause at I packed the car at 4:45, but who was I – with no real, local knowledge of the area and decidedly in the tsunami inundation zone – to argue with the official warnings? It is my firm belief that tourists and non-locals should not cause hassles for the local volunteers and first responders by being stupid, so we left. But really we could have driven a quarter mile up the hill and waited it out with no danger to anyone. Of course the shelter — the local elementary school — did have bathrooms and coffee, and that was nice.

We drove back about 4 hours later, right before the official all-clear. By then Schnitzie couldn’t stop barking at the people walking their cats on leashes*** and half the parking lot had cleared out. We were cold and tired. When we got back , everything was just like we left it and – in the day light — less scary.

The waves were still a little big and ominous though, I was drifting in and out of sleep, still worried about being back just enough to start me awake every couple of minutes. Finally, someone on TV said that the tsunami warning was back down to an advisory and I drifted off to three hours of solid sleep.

So yeah, I’m fine. Laurie’s fine. Schnitzel’s fine. Not much really happened here.

Japan’s not fine though. Those were some pretty scary scenes…

*Central heating set at 68 degrees? I doubt there are a week of days where our apartment reaches 68. Central heat makes me think I’m in a convection oven.
**Everything else about this place is better than our apartment. We just sprung for a King bed a couple of years ago and it’s hard to go back.
*** no judgment

Read the original article on Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.