Food Conversations: Passport to Global Flavors — Cheese Exploration
On this past break day at around 5:30 pm, there’s a good chance you saw smiling students carrying big white boxes out of your college dining hall. And no, they didn’t get dibs on the leftover pizza from last week. Instead, this lucky group of seventy-five students had the chance to participate in Yale Hospitality’s fourth Food Conversation, Cheese Exploration! It doesn’t get cheddar than this.
The Zoom event took a deep dive into the exciting world of “farmstead” cheeses. In contrast to most cheeses you can buy at a grocery store (looking at you Kraft Singles), farmstead cheeses are made by small artisan producers who not only produce and use their own milk, but also carefully control the entire aging process. In the words of Kathryn Simon, a food and sustainability evangelist (and also our amazing host!), farmstead cheeses are “where science, artistry, and alchemy come together”.
As Kathryn began to weave together more of the precise differences between farmstead and commercial cheese (spoiler alert: buy farmstead if you can!), my Covid pod excitedly started opening up our own big white box. Inside of the box was a pair of utensils, a Yale University branded bottle of water, a pack of crackers, and five sample-size plastic containers of different farmstead cheeses! At this point, we were all thankful that nobody else in the Zoom meeting could see our mouths start to water.
And then, the most exciting part of the night began! Going in order from youngest cheese to oldest, Kathryn started us off with a Goat Rodeo Chèvre paired with a cherry compote. This soft goat cheese, aged from only a few days to two weeks, had a smooth and creamy texture. It was chock full of lactic flavors and a citrus-y tanginess.
The second cheese to be sampled was a bloomy rind, a brie-style cheese! More specifically, this cheese was a Calkins Creamery Noblette, and was magnificently paired with honey and walnuts. Like the goat chèvre, the bloomy rind was super creamy; but instead of tang, this one was full of earthy, mushroom-y flavor. The sweet honey and crunchy walnuts complimented each bite, and made this cheese my personal favorite!
Up next was the semisoft Cherry Grove Farm Rarebird, paired with a bacon jam. Kathryn noted that the defining feature of Rarebird is that it’s made with milk from only a single milking.
This meant that the milk was not only as fresh as possible, but also that the unique tastes and seasonality of the land stood out. In what became my favorite quote of the night, Kathryn stated that “What’s in this cheese is love. Love of land, and love of cheese”. And you could really tell, each bite seemed to coat my palate with a salty, almost custard flavor. As a vegetarian, I didn’t try the bacon jam, but given the awestruck reactions of my newly cheese-loving compatriots, I could make an educated guess on its flavor.
The fourth cheese was also from Cherry Grove Farm, but instead of being the soft Rarebird, it was the semi-hard Havilah. This cheese was paired with a fig jam. Interestingly, both Cherry Grove cheeses were made from the same exact cows! However, the alpine-style Havilah was dense and nutty, having been aged between 6 and 18 months. This ageing brought out many complex flavors, which, let’s be honest, may have gone over my head without Kathryn guiding us through our sampling! Kathryn brought to our attention the flavors of garlic and onion, as well as the slight crystallization which was result of the amino acid, tyrosine (the biochem student in our group was quick to point out that tyrosine was actually a polar amino acid, a fact which I appreciated, but still don’t fully understand).
Next up, was Arethusa Farm’s Tapping Reeve, which was paired with sliced green apples. This cheese had been aged to perfection over a period of more than two years, which meant that it was, unthinkably, from a time before the pandemic! My friends and I made sure to savor every morsel, and along with the cheese’s sharp, buttery notes; we could almost taste the immaculate pre-Covid vibes. Tapping Reeve ended up being the majority of my pod’s favorite; whether it was because it paired so well with the fresh crunch of apple, or simply because of crowd favorite Arethusa’s, we’re still not quite sure.
So, once we’d sampled each of the cheeses, Kathryn started answering some student questions! From the health benefits of cheese, to great cheese pairings to try at home, to “how do I get your job?”; Kathryn graciously and wonderfully answered all of our questions. The night ended with one random participant winning this AMAZING cheese platter (I’m not salty, you are).
In total, this event was the highlight of my day! My friends and I not only learned a lot, but had a fantastic time. We’ll eagerly be waiting to sign up early for the next Food Conversations event, and we just know it’ll be gouda (come on, you didn’t think I wasn’t going to end on a cheese pun?). Be sure to keep up with Yale Hospitality’s social media accounts to stay in the loop!
By: Emme Zhou and Maxwell Yee