Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cheese!

This article was originally published in 2006 in the Left Hand Valley Courier as part of my Vicinity And Beyond series.

This Is Pretty Cheesy

You’ve surely heard the cliché that you need to take someone’s words with a grain of salt? Clara White’s words may need to be taken with saltines. Or rye crisps. Or water crackers. And maybe sip of wine. You see, White and her brother Sam are the owners of the Cheese Importers Gourmet Warehouse in Longmont.

Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere, the Cheese Warehouse is most emphatically not leaving Longmont. “We love Longmont,” White said. “We love the community.”

Confusion may be because the Cheese Warehouse is opening a second retail location in Lafayette, and the wholesale warehouse has already moved there. But the retail store will stay in Longmont. Indeed, White is considering a move from the current industrial-ish location on Pratt Parkway to a more visible spot in or near downtown.

Location locomotion aside, it’s all about the cheese. When asked what her favorite was, White said, “It’s like picking your favorite child.” While she couldn’t narrow it down to just one cheese, she was very clear that the business focuses on small cheese suppliers and family farms that don’t use synthetic growth hormones on their livestock.

Like any doting parent who can’t choose a favorite, White had no trouble extolling the virtues of the individual cheeses. Halloumi was one of the first cheeses she mentioned. It’s a mild white cheese that bills itself as “the cheese that grills.” Indeed, you can even fry this cheese in a dry pan, and it won’t melt or get gooey, but it will soften and get a nice brown crust.

Another one she pointed out was the “Drunken Goat,” so named because it’s a goat cheese that “takes a bath” in wine, giving the exterior a distinctive color.

Another cheese with an interesting color is ColoRouge, a soft cheese with an orange exterior. This one is made in Fort Collins, but even closer to home, the warehouse carries cheeses from Haystack Mountain including another one of White’s favorites: Snowdrop.

White offered samples of a variety of cheeses, pairing some of them with mustard-like condiments, fruit preserves, and of course, crackers. Indeed, there’s a lot more than cheese to be found here, including “Chocolami,” a play on the words “chocolate salami” that is something like fudge.

The front portion of the Cheese Warehouse store has an olive bar, crackers, oils, vinegars, cookies, dishes, books and more. In the back, you can get yourself a light lunch or just sit and sip some tea.

Nestled with the cheeses in the chilly warehouse is even more – Fleur de Sel sea salt, mustard, butter, nuts and one find that I’m going to have to go back for – the mysteriously named “Purple Condiment.”

There’s more to serving cheese that just slice ‘n serve. White explained that cheese should first come to room temperature, then be unwrapped and allowed to “breathe” for about 15 minutes. She also said that cutting the cheese properly can make a huge difference, and that using a good cheese plane that shaves thin, tapered slices can bring out even better flavor.

Other things that affect the cheese are beyond the buyer’s control, but might help someone narrow down likes and dislikes. The first consideration is the type of milk used – whether it is goat, cow or sheep’s milk, for example, and whether it is pasteurized or fresh. The cheese itself can be fresh or aged for a range of times.

The time of year the cheese is made can also affect the outcome. In summer the animals are eating grass while in winter, it’s hay and oats, which will change the flavor of the milk, and thus the cheese.

While perusing the “sale” section, White noted, “Cheese never goes bad; it just changes.” She clarified that, saying that fresh cheeses could go sour, like milk, but most other cheeses just continue to age.

Aging affects the lactose in the cheese, making aged cheeses kinder to the lactose-intolerant, White said. And some people find that milk from goat or sheep or water buffalo milk may be more agreeable to people who can’t handle cow’s milk.

White likes the way MouCo, the makers of ColoRouge, handle the concept of expiration dates. The packaging explains how the cheese will age, starting with “soft with a stiff white center,” then becoming “creamy and soft throughout.” The last entry says, “Cheese best vultured up by” with a date far enough in the future that I can’t imagine leftovers would remain.

White obviously enjoys talking about cheese, and she is particularly happy to see youngsters in the store. Indeed, when I first arrived, a French class was ordering lunch in French and when I was leaving a bus from Berthoud High was unloading another group. “It’s so much fun when kids come in,” White said.

My childlike self agreed, as I oogled the olive bar on my way out.
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