American Cheese (not Kraft singles, aka, "Thank God for the hippies")

Cosmic VarianceBy Risa WechslerAug 23, 2005 4:18 AM


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Sorry for my extended absense here, I just returned home this weekend, and my travels were just too too busy. It's weeks like the last two that made me think it was impossible to have a blog before I had such lovely co-bloggers to cover for me! I'll write in the next day or two something about what I've been up to and about the conference that I was at. But at the moment I'm just going to write a few words about cheese, one of my all-time favorite things to rave about. My first real evening home, and I was lucky enough to be back in time for an event of cheese and wine tasting celebrating the first anniversary of my neighborhood cheese shop, Pastoral. It was cosponsored by Slow Food Chicago -- Slow Food is a movement founded in Italy in the mid 80's, which is all about making food and the pleasure of eating central to life, appreciating regional and seasonal food, and supporting sustainable agriculture and small family farms. If you are in Chicago, or just dining in Chicago, I highly recommend the book that they just came out with this year, the Slow Food Guide to Chicago. Anyways, we had some great stuff -- artisanal cheese in America is undergoing a real renasssaince, most of which has been in just the last decade. The Fromagier (head cheese guy) at Pastoral gave a little history of cheese in America, which basically went: Pilgrims made some good cheese, but then big machines cometh with Kraft singles, and then "Thank God for the hippies", who in the late 60's started worrying about where their food was coming from, and started the seeds of what has become a wonderful and rapidly-growing American cheese market, which each year puts out more small, locally produced, delicious farmstead cheeses than the year before (this guy is a foodie but most certainly not a hippie, so I found this amusing). Apparently, membership in the American Cheese Society has doubled in the last 5 years. These guys have good taste, it seems, because one of my favorite cheeses from the evening, called Pleasant Ridge Reserve, won "Best in Show" at the most recent annual competition. These babies ain't your mama's American cheese -- if you are lucky enough to have a local cheese shop or a local cheese counter near you, stop by and spend some time there. Eat, and enjoy. [This is all close to my heart, I grew up in the organic food business, raised by one of said food-obsessed hippies, who is now making some fantastic organic farmstead cheese of his own in northwestern Washington.] P.S. Should have mentioned that Saveur had a nice special issue a few months ago, all about "the new glory in American cheese", with a list of their 50 favorites.

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