I love eating cheese, but I consume it mostly in ignorance; I hardly know anything about it. As with wine, coffee, or chocolate, jumping in to the world of cheese can be intimidating – there are just so many different kinds. How does one know what’s good? Where does one even begin? A great starting place would be at Reliable Cheese Co., a small cheese shop in downtown Durham. The area’s only European-style cheese counter, this place features a great selection of products, an uber-knowledgeable and friendly cheesemonger (Patrick Coleff), and, for the novice or the aficionado, cheese classes.
These are not cheese-making classes, which might entail hours of just standing around waiting, but cheese enjoyment classes, where you can learn about the basics, or about cheeses from certain countries, or about pairing cheese with other ingredients. You get a healthy dose of in-depth knowledge of the products and yeah, you get to eat a bunch of cheese. Sounds like a fun time to me!
As neophytes, we recently attended Reliable’s most popular class, Cheese 101. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was great. There was a group of about a dozen of us, seated around some wooden tables at the back of the shop. The tables were set simply with carafes of water, baskets of sliced fresh crusty bread, and, for each person, a small plate of 6 different cheeses, artfully arranged. Patrick lectured professorially for a while about the process of cheese-making, including a good deal of scientific detail, and then, as the tasting began, we discussed the various types of cheeses and their qualities. We tried:
- Fresh chevre (Vermont) – soft, pillowy, and buttery
- Crottin (North Carolina) – lighty aged goat cheese with a bit more punch
- Grayson (Virginia) – a “smelly” soft cheese similar to Taleggio
- Roncal (Spain) – kind of like manchego or pecorino romano
- VintageVan Gogh (Wisconsin) – an aged gouda
- Valdeon (Spain) – delicate, complex blue cheese
I really tried to pace myself with the bread and cheese (as we were planning on going to eat afterwards), and felt a little bad for not finishing all of it, but, if I had gone for it all, it would have almost been enough for a light supper.
Finally, Patrick talked about storing and serving cheese before concluding and offering us 10% off of anything in the store. I spotted some good-looking buffalo mozzarella and some gourmet meats that I hope to come back for. And I’ll have to return, because, after learning a bit about cheese, and trying some of the good stuff, I think I’m ready for Cheese 201!