These three fine cheeses have special Fatherâ€™s Day meanings for me. The Pecorino delle Balze Volterrane is a style of cheese that delivers a lot of bang for its buck (something that my father has always cared about greatly) partly because it is an unpasteurized sheep milk cheese. This signals plenty of flavor and aroma. The olive oil and vegetal notes come through, even after the cheese has been cut and left out for hours. It is a â€œprimordialâ€ cheese, from a family of cheeses that have been produced for millennia around the Mediterranean. The Pecorino delle Balze Volterrane is very nutritious: chock full of protein, vitamins, minerals, as well as the cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid. I want all that flavor, aroma and nutrition for my father, for myself, and for my daughter as well.
The Sbrinz we have in our caves now is what I call the â€œgrandfather of Parmigiano-Reggianoâ€ because it is another ancient type of cheese whose recipe was the inspiration for the Parm. My daughterâ€™s first favorite cheese was Parmigiano-Reggiano. She could nibble on a chunk of it for hours when she was a toddler. There are no better sources of Calcium than what is offered in those two cheeses.
One day I presented her with some Sbrinz, which until that day, I thought was merely a â€œniceâ€ cheese. After tasting it, she said that she would like some more. I remember that morning well. It was eye-opening to me â€“ how she helped me recognize its qualities, by simply asking for more. Having those two cheeses helped make her MVP of her sports teams while growing up in lower Manhattan: basketball, softball, baseball, soccer, and hockey. In her early years she enjoyed her Sbrinz in larger chunks, though it is a cheese that is best enjoyed when it is shaved thin.
The Geit-in-Stad is a Dutch cheese produced from goat milk. My father likes the goat milk. He had some when he was a young boy. He also has a sweet tooth, and sweet is part of the allure of this cheese. When we include Geit-in-Stad as one of our featured cheeses at events, it is often the favorite. And a tip of the hat to my motherâ€™s side of the family, the Dutch part, for that countryâ€™s many centuries of cheese making expertise.
The cheese is produced with unpasteurized milk,which happens to give it an extended shelf life, as well as a full aroma and flavor. A generous dose of umami rounds out its flavor profile while the aroma takes you to one of the most beautiful places on earth â€“ the Alps. You could easily consider having this cheese on its own. It has an eggy flavor; it reminds me of scrambled eggs, with a touch of salt and no pepper, cooked in butter.
One of our customers is the award-winning luxury cruise line Radisson/Seven Seas. Among their more popular cruises are the “Spotlight on Food and Wine” packages. With superior quality food and beverage on their ships, the company has been rated at the top in the industry. So, of course, to find the best cheese they come to Artisanal.
The passengers on these cruises are drawn to them in large part because they are truly interested in fine food and wine and want to learn more about the wonderful world of gastronomy. The acclaimed cooking school Cordon Bleu has a big presence on this line in the Signatures restaurants and in classes for the passengers. Guest chefs, wine makers, and other experts present lectures, tastings, and cooking demos during the cruises.
Again this year, I had the recent pleasure of presenting a couple of seminars on the Mariner. For the first session, a Cheese and Wine 101 class, we prepared plates of six cheeses to be paired with a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir from Hawley wines in Sonoma. Expecting a good turnout for the class of around 80 passengers the service crew set out 100 plates of cheeses just to make sure. Many of the passengers arrived early for the seminar but at the appointed hour the guests just kept on coming! Orders went back to the galley requesting more cheese! Orders went also to the desktop publisher on board to quickly print more tasting sheets. The sommeliers uncorked more bottles of wine. I began the discussion of the basic principles of pairing cheeses with wines and gave short descriptions of each of the cheeses we would be sampling. John Hawley, the proprietor and wine maker of Hawley wines introduced his wines and we then began the actual tasting.
Nearly 150 people, almost one fourth of the passengers on board, sat down to the Cheese and Wine seminar in the main dining room — The Compass Rose! Other programs competing for guests attention at the same time included a lecture on gemstones and one on bridge, a fitness class on tightening and toning the lower body, shuffleboard or golf chipping on deck 12, checkers on the garden promenade on deck 6, the Carita Spa on 7, and the swimming pool on deck 11!
The cheeses we tasted, chosen to illustrate the synergies between cheeses and two different wine types, were: Garrotxa: goat’s milk from Spain, Amarelo da Beira Baixa — sheep and goat’s milk from Portugal, Mahón — cow’s milk from Menorca, Vacherin Fribourgeois — cow’s milk from Switzerland, Gouda (4 y.o.) — cow’s milk from Holland, and Crater Lake Blue — cow’s milk from Rogue River Creamery in Oregon. Each participant was given a score sheet to assess the relationship each cheese had with each wine.
Afterwards, with other programs starting around the ship and the dining room crew anxious to reset the room for lunch service, several of the guests came up with more specific questions about cheese and about cheese and wine pairing. From that point on the remainder of my time on board the Mariner seemed to be an endless flow of cheese talk. We had hoped to have a little extra cheese for the cheese boards in the dining rooms that evening, but it was pretty much all gone.
Two days later, the second seminar on cheese focused on cheese making methods, the history of cheese, and the nutritional values of cheese, and coincidentally, on the relationship of 6 different cheeses to 2 different wines — a Sauvignon Blanc from Napa and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, California. The cheeses were: Majorero — goat’s milk from the Canaries (I thought a maritime cheese would work well on board the Mariner sailing in the Pacific), Beyos — cow’s milk from Spain, Cheshire — cow’s milk from England (with a marine tang), Serena — sheep milk from western Spain, Appenzeller — cow’s milk from eastern Switzerland, and Harbourne Blue — goat’s milk from England.
This seminar was scheduled for later in the day when the weather was more likely to draw passengers to the pool. And coinciding with cheese time we had a Blackjack tournament in the casino, the Incredibles on the big screen, bridge, shuffleboard, crafts, needlepoint, a harp seminar, tea time with a view, and Pilates. So naturally, a thinner attendance was predicted, but again, to our surprise, we had nearly 140 people!
The Executive Chef, Quinn McMahon, asked if I would do a little Cheese 101 seminar for the Food and Beverage crew late that night after most of the passengers had retired. Tired as they had to have been, we again enjoyed a huge turnout of some particularly curious Chefs, Sommeliers, and other dining room staff!
It was amazing to see the response that the cheese seminars had. I thought to myself upon debarkation “next time we’ll need more cheese!”
Food and Wine Magazine ran an article on one of those Spotlight cruises on the same Mariner ship in the July issue last year entitled “Boat Camp”. Written by Abe Opincar and enhanced by the photography of Lucy Schaeffer, “Boat Camp” is available in our site’s In the News section.