Have you ever started to assemble a cheese platter for a party and then realized that you have no idea what you’re doing? I have. Beyond the very basic and boring rule of “one hard cheese, one semi-hard cheese, and one soft cheese,” I’ve never felt the least bit confident about how to pick a good cheese or how to pick three (or more) cheeses that go well together. And pairing cheese with wine and other foods? Forget it. Totally out of my league.
And haven’t you always been curious about what else, besides cheese, might go on a cheese platter? Grapes? Crackers? Snore. I’ve been desperate to find someone who could help me come up with something a little more exciting.
I attended Juliana’s two-hour class this week and was blown away by 1) how fun it was and 2) how little I know about cheese. (I was also blown away by how tipsy one can get on nothing but cheese and wine for dinner, but let’s save that for the end.)
The Cheese School holds small classes in a lovely wood-floored, open-windowed loft space on Powell Street not far from Fisherman’s Wharf. You sit at a long dining room-style table that’s set with the prettiest china and sparkling wine glasses and tiny, adorable cheese utensils. The instructor imparts to you all of her infinite wisdom (in a very informal lecture) about cheese and food and wine while you dine on the very cheese and food and wine she’s talking about. You ask questions and you take notes and she stops to explain things and then you ask more questions and you take more notes. And then you drink some wine and you forget that you already asked a particular question but she answers anyway and everyone laughs together and has more wine.
Tell me… what wouldn’t be fun about all that?
As for number 2, as much as you’re having fun, you will definitely come away from the experience feeling like you need more classes. I felt far more comfortable about how to assemble a cheese platter after this particular class, and there were certain logical tips I knew I could file away in my mental recipe box for easy retrieval. (“Bright, fruity wines go with bright, lively cheeses,” and “Honey is amazing on ANY cheese!”) But I know that we hardly scratched the surface of all there is to know about cheese. You know those numbers and letters stamped into the rind of your parmigiano regiano? There’s a whole handbook on how to decode those numbers! They tell you not only where the cheese wheel came from but what family produced it and at what time of year. And forget pairing cheese with wine. There are classes on pairing cheese with beer, pairing cheese with port, and even pairing cheese with sake. Sake! Who would ever think of serving cheese with sake? Apparently, it can be done.
Next week, for those of you who don’t live close enough to attend a class in person, I’ll post the Top Ten things I Learned in Cheese School and a copy of my horribly scribbled but somewhat funny (and partially wine-stained) class notes. For the rest of you, I encourage you to sign up for a class pronto, before you find yourself staring dumbfoundedly at another boring cheese platter. You absolutely must go on empty stomach and indulge in nothing but cheese and wine for dinner. You deserve it. Just be sure to cab it home.
Photo credit: San Francisco Cheese School