Besides being home to some of the Valley's top restaurants, the Farm at South Mountain is a dynamic spot that hosts a variety of classes ranging from yoga to painting. One of its recurring classes is the Cheese Course 101. (A word to all the aspiring cheese mongers out there: alas, you won't learn how to make cheese. Basically, you learn how to eat it. As if there was a wrong way...)
According to a description on the Farm's website, the class is intended to deepen attendees understanding of "cheese tasting, pairing cheeses with sweet and savory condiments, creating a cheese course or cheese tray that will look beautiful and taste fabulous." But whatever, cheese samples and a complimentary glass of wine are included.
Because I am dedicated to the craft of journalism, I selflessly volunteered to consume all the cheese take the course. Instructor and local food stylist Ellen Straine gave us a very thorough printout detailing the different types of cheeses we were tasting, including their flavor profiles, suggested food pairings, when to serve a cheese course and interesting facts. It was evident she put a lot of effort into creating this, and it's a handy take-home reference.
My two favorite cheeses were the Saint-Andre and Espresso Bellavitano.
The Saint-Andre is a triple cream cow's milk cheese produced in the Normandy region of northwestern France. The cheese was buttery, dense and rich-like a nice creamy Brie without being quite as melty. The worksheet suggested pairing it with a light beer, dessert wine or slice of pear and serving it on crusty French bread or a plain cracker.
The Espresso Bellavitano was a texture- and flavor-rich cheddar-Parmesan inspired Italian cow's cheese rubbed with fresh ground Italian roast espresso beans. I enjoyed the flavor and texture contrast here. All of the other cheeses were served alongside with nuts, breads and spreads.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the tasting segment of class – who wouldn't? – I did bemoan the lack of specific instructions on creating a visually appealing cheese board, especially considering Straine's background as a food stylist. She's worked for companies like Ritz-Carlton, Land O'Lakes and Best Western and has been a stylist since 1995.
However, she did share the following bits of advice:
What the class lacked in instruction, it made up for in participation. It's always fun to try out new cheese and spreads, especially when outdoors in Phoenix before summer inevitably comes early and makes this place a hellscape. Plus, at $35 including cheese samples and a glass of wine, the course is a reasonably priced way to spend an afternoon.
The next Cheese 101 is Saturday, March 24, from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. For more information and to sign up, visit the events listing on the Farm's website.
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