A plate full of cheese wedges and slices greeted me as I sat down. There were also bottles of wine on the table to accompany the cheeses. I wondered where the nuts went, because usually nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pecans would also be part of a cheese platter.
Chef Mark Todd, or the Cheese Dude as he prefers to be called, was to be our guide through our hour (or was it two?) long journey into the wonderful world of Real California Cheese. The Cheese Dude is simply one of the most unpretentious people you'll ever meet in this life. He hates formalities so we had none of those stiff shirt rituals that usually accompany a wine and cheese session. It was all very down-to-earth and well... real.
To start us off, the Cheese Dude passed around a tub of Mascarpone cheese. We were instructed to scoop out a portion with our spoons and put it in our mouths. Now an 8 oz tub of Mozzarella Fresca Mascarpone Cheese costs over US$5, so this 16 oz tub could very well sell for at least P500 here in the Philippines. Mascarpone is the cheese used in desserts like Tiramisu.
Since I don't bake nor cook (believe me there is a long and complicated story behind that), it's highly unlikely that I would stock up on Mascarpone cheese anytime soon and so I took out a big chunk. The Cheese Dude told us to use our tongues to push the cheese against the upper arches of our mouths and let the flavors engulf our taste buds. Mascarpone cheese is extremely smooth, creamy, and rich. It leaves you with a sweet finish. We were told it's one step away from butter. I wouldn't mind having a few more scoops but I have that thing called a waistline to worry about.
We sampled over a dozen cheeses that morning, and if I were to elaborate on each and every one in full detail I would probably end up putting my readers to sleep. Of course, it's different when you're actually the one there doing the tasting versus just looking at the photos and reading. Two of the most memorable cheeses for me were the Chipotle pepper flavored cheese (pictured above on the left) and the cheddar dipped in Cabernet (pictured above on the right).
The Chipotle pepper cheese had a spicy smoked jalapeno flavor. It was good. I can snack on these in place of chips or popcorn while watching my favorite movie. Meanwhile, the Cabernet-dipped cheddar can give you your cheese and wine fix in a single bite. You can smell the aroma of red wine the moment you put it near your mouth.
The Cheese Dude also let us try cheddar cheese cubes with ages ranging from 2 weeks to 16 months. You taste it in order of the youngest to the oldest. Doing so gives you a sense of how cheddar cheese's taste develops as it matures.
That photo above shows the last three cheeses we sampled (from left, very strong blue cheese, entry level blue cheese, and Habanero Cheddar Cheese). A lot of my companions would probably not soon forget the Habanero Cheddar Cheese. The Cheese Dude warned us to take just a little bite since it's extremely hot and spicy, but no... a lot of us didn't listen and so the Habanero Cheddar Cheese had people panting and reaching for the nearest glass of cold water or iced tea. It was indeed very spicy but I actually kind of liked it. The beginner's blue cheese in the middle seemed formulated to please every palate with its creamy texture and mild taste. The finale was the strong blue cheese on the left. It was so tart it was almost sour, but it possessed this exquisite deep flavor that stays with you for quite some time after it melts in your mouth.
It's too bad I don't have a good photo of that slice of Leonza cheese that I had. It was one of my favorites with its slight sweetness and chewy texture.
I don't think I've met any Real California Cheese in that session that I didn't like. But then again I love cheese so I'm pretty easy to please. Before I end this blog post I'd like to share the Cheese Dude's tips on how to taste cheese properly:
- Lightly crush the cheese between your fingers. This releases the aroma and warms the cheese.
- Have a whiff of the cheese's aroma.
- Push it against the upper arches of your mouth when you eat it. Your most sensitive taste buds are located there.
- Let the flavors stay for a while to engulf your senses.
Remember, cheese is supposed to be served at room temperature. :)
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