The few… the proud… the Cheeses Freaks

Hi.  My name is Keith and I am a Cheeses Freak.  Now, you too can become one.  All you need to do is find a nice comfy chair, lower the lights and relax.  Now, with your eyes closed, repeat these words: “Cheese is my sole purpose for existence.  I am the cheese.  The cheese is I.”  That’s it!  You are now (imagine me with a sinister twisted grin on my face and rubbing my gnarly hands together) one of the few, the proud, The Cheeses Freaks.  


 

Cheese:  What is it and…what’s that smell?

You may be asking yourselves, as the great thinker Einstein once did, what is cheese?  Did it just, like, fall out of the sky or something?  If you believe that, you are a complete imbecile.  Babies, of course, fall out of the sky where they are caught by storks and delivered to their parents.  But cheese???  Poppycock!

First you must start with milk.  “Yeah, yeah…I know that,” you may be saying.  But, Mr./Ms. Smartyboots, cheese comes from many different animals.  Cows (whose only lot in life is to produce milk and get eaten…not the brainiest sort), sheep (who figure prominently in the social lives of New Zealanders), goats (my personal favorite…tres cute and accomplished nuzzlers), water buffaloes (less like the American Bison and more like the cow…but with prettier feet), and other, but less utilized, animals.

yak or reindeer's milk cheese, anyone??

Once the curds have turned the metaphorical cold shoulder to the whey, you more or less have cheese.  The great cheese philosophers still battle over this definition so let’s take it a bit further.  The curd may be placed in a mold and left (with Yanni music in the background) to drain off further whey or pressed (with AC/DC music in the background) to expel even more liquid.  Generally, a little salt is added or (cheeses REALLY like this) rubbed in the rind and it is left to ripen and age for a spell.After you got your basic pool o’ milk, you dump a little starter (no spark plugs or radiators) in to alter the milk’s acidity level and prepare it for its “leap towards immortality.”  This starter is sometimes different from cheese to cheese and lends its own special flavor.  Next, toss in a pinch or two of rennet.  This hastens the separation of the curds (solid chunks that look like part of tofu stew) and whey (watery liquid that looks like melted tofu stew).  These two components may be more familiar to you in the nursery rhyme, “George-y porgy sat on his tuffett eating his curds and whey, then stuck in his thumb and pulled out four and twenty blackbirds.”  Whoaaa pardner!  Let’s back up and examine that “rennet” thing again.  What’s rennet?  I wish you hadn’t asked.  It’s sorta…well…gotten from the inside of a calf’s intestine.  Eeeooouu.  You know that feeling when you did your first dissection on a frog?  Same feeling, huh?  So you may be asking why, then, we don’t just use the intestines of a frog for rennet.  Well, we can’t…that’s why.  Okay?  To make you feel a little bit better, vegetable rennet is being used quite a bit now in place of animal rennet but the vegetables aren’t too thrilled about it.

mmm… salt…

As my grandfather used to say, “Stand up straight!”  He also used to say, “There you have it.”  Cheese. Of course, each variety of cheese goes through its own special procedure.  Brie gets sprayed with a mold.  Parmesan gets aged for a longer time.  Gouda is wrapped in wax.  Velveeta is blended with…HEY!  how did you get in here Mr. Faux Fromage?  More on this offending bastard (pardon my language) of cheese later.

And now… CHEESE!!
 

Let’s round out this introduction to cheese with an introduction to one of our local creameries (sounds better than saying cheesemaking factory, huh?): Cowgirl Creamery, out of Petaluma. You HAVE to visit this place or go for a tour – locations in San Francisco and Point Reyes and they make some of the best American cheeses.
 

Mt. Tam is their flagship, an organic, triple cream, washed rind (or surface ripened) cheese. Named after Mt. Tamalpais, a Northern California landmark, this is a smooth and creamy cheese with a melt-in-your-mouth buttery flavor.

Fast Facts:

Country: USA
Region/City, State: Petaluma, CA
Milk: Cow
Texture: Soft
Rind: Bloomy
Aging: 3 weeks
 

Use this as dessert, with a nice glass of Sauternes or a Late Harvest Riesling. Pairing it with some spiced roasted walnuts will really set off the creaminess of the cheese. Optimum eating is when the cheese is oozing deliciousness over the bloomy rind. Look for the firmer center to be only slightly larger than a quarter.

The Man behind the Cheese Counter

A refreshingly unique aspect of working at V. Sattui is that it is much like being a part of a wonderful, albeit wacky, family. And one of our family members is celebrating his 30th year of working with us, through the thick and the thin, day in and day out, rain or shine. That man is Keith Idle and he is awesome. He started out behind the cheese counter and there he has remained & thrived (I mean, why would you leave, you’re literally surrounded by cheese!), a V. Sattui staple and reigning King of the creamy, the crumbly, the tangy and the slightly pungent (and sometimes the very pungent) plethora of cheeses from around the world we sell here in our marketplace.
 

For a time, Keith lived in the small, stucco house on the property that now houses the administrative offices. This is the very same house where Dario Sattui, the owner of V. Sattui, lived when he originally purchased the property that developed into all that is V. Sattui Winery. Keith lived upstairs at the time (now the home of Tom’s office), with Tom and Dario having offices downstairs. The production area for his various spreads (Artichoke Cream Cheese, Sun-dried Tomato) was housed downstairs as well and this is the house where Keith first made Keefer – that delicious spread he concocted with fresh garlic and herbs, whose addictive properties keep customers coming back for more and lamenting that they cannot get it elsewhere, nor get it past TSA security.
 

{Keith back in the day, flanked by Winery President, Tom Davies & then-Manager of our Deli and Marketplace, Kathy Knowles}

 

Being a Cheesemonger is no easy task; cheese is a living food and Keith treats it as such. After cutting into a Brie, it needs to be wrapped and put away immediately or it will die. He is constantly checking and re-checking the cheeses to make sure their quality is up to par. His dedication and attention to the sensitivity of what the cheese needs is admirable and tireless. Keith also keeps up with the cheese world by visiting cheese shows in the area. Several years back, Dario sent him to Italy and France for a few weeks with a mission to visit over 50 cheese shops to make sure V. Sattui’s marketplace was an authentic one. Keith is so steeped in cheese and its language that he has learned French simply though working with cheese. In fact, he was called Pierre so much by his fellow employees that it eventually ended up on his nametag – which he still wears to this day.
 

But Keith is not just another cheese-y face! He is an avid reader, devouring fiction and non-fiction alike (especially on the subject of cheese). Occasionally you may find him out on the green, as golf is a pastime he has indulged since childhood. His two big passions (after cheese, of course) are guitar and board games. He started playing on his sister’s guitar when he was just a boy, putting records on and trying to imitate the sounds. He loves playing bass, loves the deep, melodic rhythm of it and how it guides and unites the other instruments.  For a time he was in band (with a couple co-workers of yore) named “Binge” and has played at various weddings, as well as a couple local venues – Ana’s Cantina & the Silverado Brewing Company. Their repertoire included mostly classic rock, but Keith himself is a big fan of fusion or acid jazz and admires the likes of John Scofield and Charlie Hunter.  As for board games – he probably owns hundreds and doesn’t like to play the same game more than a few times. And we’re not talking Chutes and Ladders or Monopoly. Keith loves elaborate board games and can be found many a Thursday evening somewhere at the winery playing in-depth, highly strategic games with co-workers that can last several hours. Cheese and wine is always involved, of course! We recently sat down to a game called Domaine, a strategic game of territorial conquest, where Keith bested yours truly but lost out to another friend (& co-worker).
 

Keith’s tenure here speaks to the love and loyalty we employees have for V. Sattui, and the long-term relationships we foster here. He is an integral part of the company, and I couldn’t imagine my day without his advice on the best Blue with a creamier texture versus a crumbly one. Or the little samples he slips me when he’s slicing up cheeses for the case. If I were to liken him to a cheese, it would be our Cave Aged Gouda – aged and a little nutty, but much beloved by staff and customers alike. And yes, he is single, ladies.

 

{Keith at his 30th Anniversay celebration.
LEFT, with old pals Lynn (Cellar Club rockstar) and Ali (Direct-to-Consumer Marketing Manager).
RIGHT, with Jay (support staff and go-to guy) and Caitlin (Director of Events).}

 

Look forward to some cheese-y musings from the man himself, Keith Idle, in the coming weeks.