Cazelle St. Affrique

A soft dense sheep cheese from the region near Roquefort in France.  We like to think of it as a sheep milk Crottin, all soft and wrinkled with a sweet milky layer of cream near the rind and a smooth dense interior.

A cazelle is a stone hut created centuries ago to shelter the shepherds from storms and is small, round and squatty.  Herve Mons, our favorite French Affineur, named this disks after these squatty stone huts.

St. Affrique is a town located a few miles above Roquefort, and is the center for Roquefort production. The farms along the Midi-Pyrénées provide fresh raw sheep milk for the production of Roquefort and a few regional favorites such as Perail and our Pick o’ the Week – Cazelle St. Affrique.

Under that wild wrinkly rind you’ll find a sweet, nutty, butterball of cheese.  All the richness we love from sheep milk matched with a little tartness and gentle salty notes.  Spread this baby on a crusty Acme baguette and drizzle with a touch of your finest olive oil, and you’re in heaven!  Match with a rich Chardonnay such as our favorite Macon-Charnay from Manciat-Poncet, or Keller Estate’s Oro de Plato; or maybe a great Rosé like Verdad from Edna Valley or Domaine de Beaupré from Provence.

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Valentine’s Day

Sensual and sensational, Valentine’s Day is a cheese lovers holiday. Here’s the set up – you and your sweetheart alone by the fire, a platter of cheese, a bottle of bubbly, Chocolate Strawberries – you get the picture!

Here are a few of our favorite Valentine’s Day Cheese in stock this weekend:
La Tur – Creamy and rich Italian Cow, Goat, and Sheep blend to match with Strawberries and Champagne
Tomme du Chevre du Grandmere – Grandma’s Traditional Goat “Cheese Cake”. Simply scrumptious in a Frisée salad, or matched with Sour Orange Preserves
Tasmanian Signature Camembert – A new selection at the Plus. Sweet and creamy. Perfect for licking off fingers
St. Agur Blue – Cream enriched blue from France. Sweet and grassy. Match with a sticky dessert wine.
Pyrenees Brebis – Southern French Sheep cheese. Toasted hazelnut praline flavors to match with Spanish Jamon Iberico Ham.
Saenkanter 3 Yr Aged Gouda – Salted toffee and caramel notes. Match with a rich Zinfandel or Port and Dark Chocolate.

Maybe you’ve got Champagne wishes and Caviar dreams for this Valentine’s Day. We have a full selection of Champagne and Sparkling wines to compliment our Tsar Nicholai California Farm Raised Caviar. And don’t forget the smoked Salmon, Crème Fraîche, and Buckwheat Blini to serve with your Caviar.

For all you chocoholics out there – we saw you coming! In addition to fabulous Red Velvet hearts, we’re stocking all your favorite dark chocolate bars including our latest addition of Amano Chocolate from Utah. And we’ll also make our own Chocolate Dipped Longstem Strawberries this Friday and Saturday.

And don’t forget the Roses! Paul Robertson will deliver fresh Longstem Roses, Tulips, and more to the store just for you this Valentine’s Day!

Winter Artisan American Cheese Fair

We’re hosting our first Winter Artisan Cheese Fair at Cheese Plus.  We’ve invited a few of our favorite American cheese makers to come to the Plus on Saturday, February 21st from Noon – 4 PM.  You’ll be able to sample dozens of fine American Artisan cheeses from the top producers across the country.  In addition to all the great cheese, we’ll also have 4 acclaimed cheese authors here signing their books and spreading the cheese love for everyone.

The line-up includes:

Dee Harley of Harley Farms

Jeanette Hurt – Author of The Cheeses of Wisconsin

Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese – *2008 American Cheese Society Best of Show Award Winner

Laura Werlin – Author of Cheese Essentials

David Gremmels of Rogue Creamery

Clark Wolf – Author of American Cheeses

Sheana Davis of Delice de Vallee Cheese

Janet Fletcher – Author of Cheese and Wine

Bob McCall of Cypress Grove Chevre

Culture Magazine

Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and More!!

If you’re a cheese lover, you won’t want to miss this one of a kind event at Cheese Plus.  Save the date and be sure to stop by on Saturday, February 21st from Noon – 4 PM!

This event is co-hosted by Sheana Davis proprietor of The Epicurean Connection.  Sheana is a Chef, Caterer and Culinary Educator based in Sonoma, and is the host of the 7th Annual Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference being held in Sonoma on Monday and Tuesday, February 23rd and 24th.  For more information about the cheese conference please follow the link here.

Celebrate New Year’s Eve

Greetings!

I hope you are enjoying the holiday season.  With only 3 days left until the New Year, I want to let you know what a pleasure it has been to serve you in 2008. The team and I were reflecting the other day about the incredible growth and change we’ve achieved this year.  None of it would be without your continued support of the Plus.  Thanks for all your encouragement and feedback.  It’s an honor to provide great traditional and authentic foods for your table.

I’m looking forward to another great year at Cheese Plus.  We are making plans for a few new products and some merchandising changes in the new year.  Please let us know how we can better serve your needs.  In the meantime, I hope to see you one more time at the Plus, so I can personally wish you a very happy, healthy, and prosperous new year!

We’ll be open regular hours on NYE ’til 7:30.

We’ll be closed on January 1st, reopening from 10 – 6 on Friday, January 2nd.

 

-Ray

Cheese and Champagne

A match made in heaven

We’re often asked what cheeses to pair with Champagne and sparkling wines.  Typically we might reach for a decadent and creamy triple creme brie style, or a tart and tangy goat cheese.  Both categories are a sure success with most Champagne and sparkling wine styles.  Here are a few more suggestions we’ve been enjoying this season:

Constant Bliss – Raw milk soft ripened cones from Vermont.  Earthy with mushroom and straw flavors.

Garrotxa – Firm and nutty goat cheese from Catalonia, Spain with a nutty character of toasted hazelnut flavor.

La Tur Robiola Tre Latti – An unctuous blend of cow, goat, and sheep milk with a fresh clean character, and dense/creamy texture.

Chaource – A delicious double cream snowball from the Champagne region of France.  Sweet and creamy with a slightly salty character.

Pecorino Foglie di Noci – A firm sheep cheese from Tuscany that’s been rubbed in olive oil and rolled in walnut leaves.  Sharp and salty with a flaky texture and a flinty, minerally character.

Make sure you check out our extensive selection of more than 350 cheeses from across the country and around the world in stock everyday.

 

Tiny Bubbles

Just for you!

Whether it’s Champagne or Sparkling wine, one thing’s for sure – it’s not a true New Year’s Eve celebration until the bubbles come out.  Here are a few of our favorite bottles of bubbly perfect for your New Year’s Eve celebration.

Francoise Chidaine Montlouis Sur Loire Sparkling Chenin Blanc

This organic and biodynamic wine is produced at the Chidaine family vineyards in the Loire Valley of France.  From vines of 40 to 80 years in age, this lightly sparkling beauty is loaded with rich fig and dried pear notes.  Soft ginger spice lingers on the finish.

Monmarthe Champagne Rosé

A true beauty with deep rich red cherry color.  The flavors are bright and concentrated with red raspberry and strawberry character, a little gentle grapefruit zestiness, soft toastiness, and spicy cumin notes on the finish.  A great rosé to enjoy as an aperitif or with fresh berries and whipped cream.

Luis Pato Vinho Espumante Maria Gomes

A deliciously soft and fruity wine with light bubbles.  This Portuguese sparkler is perfume-y, tropical, but dry, with a bit of a spice on the finish.  Complex, yet understated – a great everyday sparkler!

Tsar Nicoulai Caviar – San Francisco’s Original Sustainable Caviar

Caviar is the classic New Year’s Eve indulgence.  Paired with tart and rich crème fraiche, smoked fish, and delicious bubbly, we can think of no finer way to finish 2008 and welcome 2009!

For decades San Francisco’s own Tsar Nicoulai has been supplying the finest restaurants and retailers with their award winning farm raised California Estate Osetra Caviar.  Tsar Nicoulai were the first to develop California farm raised Caviar, and continue to produce and import the world’s finest Caviar.

Traditionally, Caviar was produced in Russia, Iran, and Romania along the Caspian and Black Seas.  Overfishing, heavily polluted waters, and brazen illegal poaching there have resulted in lowering the quality of imported Caviar while drastically increasing the costs.

Contrastly, California farm raised Caviar is produced locally in the Sierra mountain range of Northern California under strict guidelines and attention to detail.  The resulting Caviar is superior in its clean fresh flavor, affordability, and sustainability.

Here’s a brief description of Tsar Nicoulai Caviar we have in stock for you this New Year’s Eve:

California Select Estate Osetra Caviar

Medium to large sized eggs.  Golden tawny brown to platinum color.

California Estate Osetra Caviar

Medium sized eggs.  Dark black/brown color.  Sweet, nutty and creamy.

American Paddlefish Sturgeon Caviar

Small eggs.  Steel gray color.  Fresh sea-breeze flavor.

We recommend serving Tsar Nicoulai Caviar well chilled in the simplest manner – either on buttered toast points, or a buckwheat blini (pancake) with a dollop of creme fraiche, and a glass of sparkling wine or Champagne.

Enjoy!

Il Nuovo Olio d’Oliva è Arrivato!

The new Olive Oil harvest has arrived at Cheese Plus

Recently we featured fresh and lively Beaujolais Nouveau wine from France – the young, just pressed and fermented first wine of the season.  Today I’m going to introduce you to Olio Nuovo d’Oliva – the first pressed Olive Oil of the season, which has just arrived at Cheese Plus.

Olives ripen and mature late in the year, and are typically harvested in late autumn.  To celebrate the harvest, the freshly pressed olive oil is made available on a limited basis.  More typically the olive oil that was harvested and produced just 3 – 6 weeks ago is allowed to settle and mellow; waiting for shipment to the market sometime in the springtime of the new year.  So most of the oil available today was actually harvested in the late autumn of 2007.

The Olio Nuovo (or Novello as it’s known in Southern Italy) is vibrant green in color, with a thick silky texture, and the unmistakable aroma of freshly cut grass; and spicy black pepper, sweet fennel, bright green apple, artichoke and olive leaf flavors.  Olio Nouvo is the most intense and full flavored olive oil available.   Pour this green elixir over your best bread – I like the Acme Bakery Long Italian loaf or their not-so-well-known Upstairs Bread we offer.  For cooking I recommend serving this as a finishing oil on flavorful cold weather roasts, risotto, pasta, and green vegetables.

We have a very limited supply of Olio Nuovo d’Oliva from Capezzana and Laudemio (Tuscany), and Olio Verde (Sicily), so call us today to secure your bottles.  And remember – Olio Nuovo is a great holiday gift for any foodie on your list!

Slow Food Nation


Slow Food Nation was a 3-day event held here over Labor Day weekend.  The event was held in numerous locations around San Francisco, including lectures, an open farmers market, a 2-day concert, and a Taste Pavilion featuring 12 food categories.  I was fortunate to volunteer my time this last weekend at the Cheese Pavilion alongside dozens of other volunteers.

Walking into the Taste Pavilion at Fort Mason was immediately amazing.  Just outside the Festival Pavilion to my right a beer garden, and to my left a row of ovens both wood fired and gas, and an amazing display of the worlds most classic styles of bread.  I’ve been in the main building many times over the years participating in events both as a consumer and as a retailer, but I had yet to see the building so well decorated and designed.  Along the perimeter of the building were 12 mini pavilions each designed by its own architect.  Of primary importance were that the materials were or would be recycled after the event.  A large sign proclaimed that this event was a fully compostable event; each trash and recycling station had a person nearby to assure you put your waste in the proper receptacle.

As I strolled through the hall I walked past all the mini pavilions: pickle/chutney, fish, charcuterie, honey/preserves, tea, coffee, chocolate, ice cream, spirits, olive oil, the green kitchen (cooking classes), and wine on my way to the Cheese Pavilion where I would spend the next 2 afternoons and evenings.  The Cheese Pavilion was decorated in contrasts.  An interesting labyrinth of hay bales fashioned into a mini amphitheater/lounge, surrounded by large photos of cheeses and quotes, and a backdrop of bright red milk crates form Straus Organic Creamery – which reminded me of a stack of amplifiers from a heavy metal video.

The Cheese Pavilion featured only American cheeses, with a particular slant toward raw milk and farmstead production.  In fact, all Pavilions were exclusively American from the 450 bottles of wine from states as diverse as Georgia and New York, to the chocolate roasted and blended in the US, and those fantastic pickles and cured meats I couldn’t seem to eat enough of.  The folks at Slow Food sent out an invitation to American artisan cheese producers offering to buy their cheese to be se served on a composed cheese plate at the event.  In total there were 54 cheese makers represented, each sending a maximum of 25 lbs of cheese each.  After a brief meeting with the team leaders for the event, I rolled up my sleeves, donned the Slow Food Nation apron we were given, and began cutting wheel after wheel of cheese into small batons and triangle wedges.  An amazing selection of unique cheeses passed under my hands – a salty, mineral-y goat cheese from Oregon; a robust and buttery Bosque blue from Veldhuizen Family Farm outside Ft. Worth, Texas; rounds and rounds of sticky stinky Winnemere from Jasper Hill dairy in Vermont to which I started mimicking the Crosby Stills and Nash song Guinevere – “Winnemere has a smelly rind, like yours, baby like yours…”.

In the “Hay Bale Amphitheater” we had demonstrations and discussions by authors like Laura Werlin, cheese makers like Mike Gingrich, Jennifer Bice, and Mary Keehn, and blogger/educators like Tami Parr from the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project.  As the line for the cheese plates wrapped around the corner and out the door outside and alongside the pier, I was sent out with tray after tray of cheese samples to entertain the folks.  With glasses of wine in hand, their Slow Dough (taste coupons), and the view of this wonderful City – with Coit Tower to the right and Alcatraz out in the Bay – it was a pretty nice line to wait in.

It was incredible to see so many folks in town for the event.  I visited with a couple from the Carolinas, another group from Portland, some fine cheese heads from Wisconsin, and dozens of local Bay Area food lovers.  One gentleman from Utah told me how he attempted to make a batch of yogurt on the hood of his car a few days ago.  He said it was good but a little runny.  Another person told me of their attempt at fresh mozzarella, and another at making his own Mexican-style heavy cream for a taco feast that weekend.  Wow!  So many enthusiastic food lovers coming together to taste, talk and explore the best in American artisan foods.

Throughout the weekend I worked with the best and brightest of the Bay Area cheese world.  The Cowgirls were gracious and professional; heading up the operations, donating many staff members, the logistics, refrigeration and trucking.  Debra and Diana who represent Redwood Hill in Sonoma Co. and Jasper Hill Dairy in Vermont kept us on our toes.  A number of enthusiastic Slow Food members who just wanted to help out were also on hand to cut cheese and greet the guests.  You could see how bright eyed they were at the opportunity to serve, taste, and learn.  An instant crash course in cheese from a few experienced cheesemongers, and between bites, an opportunity to give back to an organization they believe in.

I was told the event at the Taste Pavilion was to host 7000 ticket holders, but just learned that as many as 14000 ticket holders were there throughout the weekend.  It just blows me away to see so many people participating in the “slow” movement – if you don’t already know, the term slow food is the opposite of fast food.  I often speak about the importance of supporting the independent farmer or producer.  How this creates sustainability financially by providing the farmer/producer a livable income, and keeps the soil and crops alive as well.  As a child I worked on my family’s farm.  Today the farm is gone, sold away, the county seat a dried up community of what once was thriving.  But I consider myself a lucky one who did have a chance to taste traditional and authentic foods, and to live close to the soil, if only for a few summers.  Some of my favorite food memories of that time are gone with the farm, into prepackaged and predictable internationally branded commodities.

Slow Food Nation, if only for a few days, was a window into our culinary heritage, a chance to embrace the idea that food is unique and inspired.  A product of the people, the soil, and the history of our great nation.  It starts with the carrots and ends with the caviar, and along the way we can all do our part in little ways by supporting traditional and authentic foods at farmers markets and independent grocers, by growing our own lettuces in a window box, and always tasting and asking questions about the origins and creation of our foods.