On Wednesday afternoon my good friend and colleague, Nancy Nichols, called me and said “Get over here right away, I need to see you. I am making you the Big Cheese!”
I’m thinking: Promotion!
Nancy was thinking: Cheese!
It was a bit deflating when Nancy, her left eye covered with an authentic pirate/Moshe Dayan eye patch, met me outside her house with a foam wedge of cheese. Either she was sending me to cover a Packers game. Or this was not exactly what I had in mind. Nancy, tears in her good eye, explained that the residual pain from her emergency retina laser work made it impossible for her to be her normal gracious host for the SideDish CheeseHead Texas Wine and Cheese Celebration at – where else?- Celebration. She needed me to fill in for her. And she needed me to wear the big cheese head hat. Then she pulled out a Swiss Miss wig, complete with long side braids, and a pair of cheese wedge earings.
“Sorry,” I said, “But I like my cheese like I like my women: Dutch.”
The wig was out (but the earrings may one day come in handy).
Cheese head in hand, I rushed to Celebration to help with the Celebration. But here’s the funny thing: Not only our local cheese farmers and purveyors talented, but they also don’t need any gimmicks or guest hosts. At 5 p.m. promptly, folks started streaming onto the vine covered patio to sip Kiepersol Estates Texas Merlot and sample cheese from The Mozzarella Company, Lucky Layla Farms and Latte Da Dairy. All of them won awards at the 25th Annual American Cheese Society competition in Austin earlier this month. Also, we can’t forget the Ozarows from Empire Baking Company, who supplied some lovely bread to accompany the cheese. Here’s the thing about these little SideDish get togethers that I’ve come to realize: We really have a very nice food-loving community in Dallas. And supportive, too. Lots of folks got to taste cheese and get an education in what goes into the making of these small-batch products.
There was plenty of cheese and wine and even more good times and good conversation. Local artisanal cheeses are starting to show up on more and more menus all over town, so even if you missed the event, you still have chances to sample this stuff. And it’s good. I’ve had Paula’s mozzarella – heck, I once made Paula’s mozzarella in a cheese class – all over town (most recently, I saw it on the menu at Park). And I’ve sampled some of her other cheeses, too. Paula had her award winners – the Queso Oaxaca and Queso Blanco with Chiles and Epazote – on hand, but my favorite of hers was the Blanca Bianca. It had a fruity and spicy aroma and it had a little kick of spice at the end. A wonderful snacking cheese.
My blue ribbon for the night, however, went to Latte Da’s Fresh Chevre with dill, garlic, and black and red peppers. I can now understand why the goat on the on logo is dancing. These goats should be proud of this stuff. It was creamy and light and the mix of herbs sprinkled on top made for a perfect spread atop a slice of baguette. I had sampled the plain Chevre the night before at Oceanaire, where it is used in a salad with pistachios. I found Latte Da’s plain Chevre to be more mild than most goat cheeses I’ve tasted. Paired up with a vinaigrette and some pistachios, the salad was fully of layers of crunch, cream, sweet, salty and bitter. It was a symphony of tastes.
Admission: I never did get to taste the Lucky Layla cheeses. They were at the far end of the cheese tables and they were crowded. The Moore Family can pack ’em in. Fortunately, if I can’t get out to their store on Jupiter Road in Plano, I know I can sample their cheese (and butter) at Fearing’s in the Ritz-Carlton. They had some of their award-winning yogurt cheese on hand and had a steady stream of hungry tasters.
When we closed up shop at a little after seven, it was with a tummy full of cheese and a head full of memories of great local artisanal cheeses. There’s a great variety of local stuff out there folks. If you haven’t tried it, you are missing out. And you don’t even have to wear a giant wedge of foam cheese on your head when you do it (leave that part to us pros.).