Grilled Cheese? Yes, Please!

What the world needs now is more cheese martyrs. A selfless crew of individuals like myself, willing to sacrifice their time and taste buds to bring attention to the plight of neglected cheeses. I can’t think of a tougher hardship than being trapped in a room full of curd-nerds, forced to eat freshly made, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, a plate full of artisan cheeses, and a selection of wines that paired beautifully with each cheese.

Last night, for the greater good, I participated in an outstanding class at the Cheese School of San Francisco, called “Grilled Cheese, Please!” Led by the inimitable, surprisingly funny, and most fabulous Laura Werlin. Laura, who is a consummate cheese professional, led us through an informative and entertaining two-hour session of cheese and wine tasting. Although I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to the subject of cheese, there was much to learn. I couldn’t have fathomed all of the sublime flavor combinations that can be had between two slices of quality bread.

The cheese selection included Redwood Hill Farm’s Goat Feta, Marieke Gouda from Holland’s Family Farm in Wisconsin, Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Co., two types of fromage blanc (goat and cow), Pt. Reyes Farmstead’s Toma (crazy about!!), Hook’s 5-year Cheddar, and Cabot Creamery’s Clothbound Cheddar (love!!).

We were offered four examples of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, each made with the cheeses I mentioned, as well as other surprising ingredients like sautéed leeks, sour cherries, spinach, basil, kalamata olives, bacon, avocado, and maple syrup. Go figure!

My favorite grilled cheese by far was ‘The Greek’, a riff on spanikopita. Buttery, golden-grilled multi-grain sourdough filled with sautéed leeks, spinach, garlic, and a meltingly good combination of the Redwood Hill Farm Goat Feta and the Marieke Gouda. Although the sandwich paired well with the Scharffenberger sparkling wine we were served, it was impressive on its own.

Caleb and Sadie will be thrilled when we start experimenting with the cheese-packed sandwich recipes I came away with. I also look forward to testing out my own grilled cheese concoctions, with a combination of cheeses and ingredients that compliment them. I think I could get used to being a ‘cheese martyr’. Somebody’s got to do it!

Cheese Glorious Cheese!

We have a new family member, Pascal Tomini. He’s young, pasty, and a little high-maintenance. Pascal is the pet cheese I brought home from the fabulous cheese-making class I participated in at the Cheese Board in Berkeley.

As you can imagine, seconds lapsed between the time I heard about this class and when I registered for it. Any opportunity to stand in the back of the Cheese Board kitchen, with a collection of other cheese devotees, was a huge attraction. I own a book on home cheese making, but am intimidated by the step-by-step process. Having an experienced teacher walk me through each step would make it much more accessible.

On Wednesday evening after work, I met up with my friends Kerry and Jennifer at Cheese Board Pizza, just a few doors down from the Cheese Board (where the class was to be held). It was raining wildly outside as we sat inside, gobbling down delectable slices of pesto covered zucchini pizza, enjoyed with a glass of red wine. Live jazz music was playing at one end of the room, and the place was packed. I could have sat there all evening soaking up the cool Berkeley atmosphere.

It was time to head over to our cheese-making class. We grabbed our umbrellas and walked two doors down to the bakery. Once inside, we were offered white aprons and were ushered to the back of the kitchen where the class was getting underway. Our teacher simply donned a name tag that said “Cow”, so that’s how I’ll refer to her. Cow runs a cheese school called The Milk Maid in San Francisco and is an experienced cheese maker and instructor.

My friends and I stood around the large kitchen prep tables under soft lighting, surrounded by other participants who were as eager to learn the steps involved in cheese-making as we were. I was in heaven! The expansive cheese counter to my left, the large ovens that produce some of the best baked goods I’ve ever delighted in, to my right.

In front of us were cheese forms, a large cookie sheet, and a tiny tray with a sampling of various cheeses made from a variety of processes. Cow explained that we were going to learn how to make a crottin or tomini recipe (a lactic set cheese, best eaten fresh to moderately aged), and then she walked us through the basic steps for making ‘lactic set cheeses’. As I had hoped, the instructor demystified the process, making it accessible and exciting.

The experiential portion of the class involved ladling large curds of cow’s milk into my small plastic form and allowing it to drain over the cookie sheet. After listening to Cow’s clear instructions, we all went home with happy cheese-filled bellies, and our curd-filled cheese forms, soon to evolve into true aged cheese.

So, Pascal Tomini and I drove home together in the rain. I introduced him to the other family members, and then put him to bed on the kitchen counter. Excited to expose Caleb to the cheese-making process, I involved him the next day by having him gently remove the cheese from the form, then sprinkle both sides with salt. We carefully placed Pascal in a Tupperware container (lid not quite on) and then into the fridge.

Over the next few weeks, Caleb and I will follow his progress, turn him over daily, and take in deep inhalations of the promise of good cheese eating to be had.

Stay tuned…

A Cooking Class Adventure with Caleb

Last Saturday, Caleb and I participated in a wonderful parent-child cooking class together in San Francisco. The class, Empanadas and Dumplings, was taught by our friends through the blogosphere, Simran and Stacie who write a fabulous blog that I’m fond of, called A Little Yumminess.

Caleb and I rode BART into the City and arrived at the 16th Street BART Station just minutes before our class was to begin. I practically covered Caleb’s eyes as we hurried past a gaggle of friendly neighborhood prostitutes and drug addicts. Good times! I wouldn’t have done a double take in my twenty-something days when walking through the Mission, but now that I’m a careful guardian of two young children, I feel incredibly protective and don’t want the world to appear seedy through their eyes.

We let the wind blow us up the street to a cozy studio space in the Mission District dedicated to bringing community and food together, called 18 Reasons. We walked in to find about eight other families sitting around a family-style table waiting for class to begin. Sprinkled around the table were little bowls of empanada and dumpling fillings such as chocolate chips (yes…I caught Caleb’s hand in there a few times), banana puree, apple sauce, diced apple, as well as more savory fillings like chicken, ground beef with onions, queso fresco, black beans, and creamed corn.

Simran and Stacie had pre-made the dough and provided us with little balls to roll out at our workstations. Caleb was a master roller and had even volunteered to help demonstrate how to make the dough in front of the class.

After making a handful of empanadas, Simran did her demonstration of “Easy-Peasy Dumplings” and we tried our hand at those. Very similar to the potstickers Caleb and I have made together, and very yummy.

Our favorite part of the class was when the pre-made empanadas came out of the oven and we all got to pass baskets of sweet and savory hot pockets of goodness. There wasn’t an empanada that Caleb didn’t like (although his favorite…wait for it…was filled with chocolate), so I feel very inspired to make these at home with him sometime soon.

As we were getting ready to leave to head back to the East Bay, Caleb asked me “Momma, what other fun things are we going to do now?” I was pleased to hear that my little guy was having such a good time and that my idea to take him to a cooking class in San Francisco was well received.

I really enjoyed my special date with Caleb – riding into the City, walking over to the class through my old stomping grounds, running to the class hand in hand as the wind was pushing us up the street, and sitting next to my sweet-pea around a huge table, surrounded by other parents who are also passionate about exposing their children to wholesome, home-cooked ethnic foods. I especially enjoyed, riding back on BART with Caleb’s head on my shoulder and hand on my lap. We had fun talking all about the food that we had made together and gobbled up during the class. This was definitely a memorable food adventure and I look forward to our next one.

Recipe: Chocolate and Caramelized Banana Empanadas (from A Little Yumminess)