Cheese Tasting with Cheese Monger Greg Blais

Lucky us, in that we were graced with a visit from renowned cheese monger Greg Blais, who also happens to be brother to Ms. Katie Blais and brother-in-law to our very own Dr. Marc Lavallee (and uncle to adorable Henry!).He has been interviewed for radio, tv, blogs, newspapers, and magazines, (including Vogue and Vanity Fair), and is also a highly sought-after judge for the more important cheese making contests. You can also listen to cheese notes on his podcast “Cutting the Curd” on the Heritage Network. If anyone knows cheese, Greg does.

Greg and Katie are planning to open Hope Street Cheese and Provisions, an artisanal cheese shop located in Bristol, Rhode Island.  The shop will carry an artfully sourced selection of cheeses from local New England farms as well as producers throughout the United States and Europe.  Alongside the cheese, the shop will carry a variety of accompaniments such as pickles, jams and spreads, fresh bread, and seasonal baked goods, all which will be carefully sourced and vetted to ensure the highest quality and most sustainable practices.  Custom catering and platters will be available for purchase and a variety of workshops and classes will be offered in and outside of the retail space. The store is expected to open in November.

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I love cheese. I may even qualify it as my favorite food (though ice cream is also up there). When I heard we had a cheese tasting today with a professional cheese monger I was very excited. Before today I had had few different cheeses outside of the normal cheeses you can get from the Stop & Shop deli. I had no idea how many different kinds of cheese there were, how many different textures, flavors, colors and techniques were involved in cheese. I didn’t realize the flavor could come from anything but age and additives. My favorite of the seven was certainly the Petit Basque. It had the perfect buttery taste and texture. I was at first wary when it was described as having sheep’s milk as I had never had any before, but I am so glad I tried it. It is also the only cheese I enjoyed alone. The soft cheese, Brillat Saverin and Humboldt Fog, were not my favorite. They both had a sour flavor and texture I didn’t love alone but were enjoyable spread on soft bread. The Taleggio was solid but rather soft as well. The rind was definitely the best part. It had the texture of a soft nut and the vague flavor of fruit. The Beemster had a stronger salty flavor, which was delicious on the hard crackers. I loved the unique crunch of the salt pieces created by its age. The blue Bayley cheese was also quite strong. Mr. Blais wisely advised us to try it on thin sweet crackers, which balanced well with the salt. Last, the Comte had an enjoyable flavor, but the texture had a sort of grainy feeling I didn’t like. I did enjoy it with a bit of apricot to mix with. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to try so many new flavors and combinations I hadn’t known before. –Megan Madden ‘18

 

 

I was told to go to Mr. Calisto´s class, where I thought we where just going to wait until the bus got to the school. For my surprise, when I entered the classroom the whole room was decorated all fancy, with a center table full of plates with cheese ready to be tasted. We started taking some appetizers on our plates, that reminded me of all the Italian movies that I have seen which usually make me end up very hungry. Just before we started with the action, Adam poured water into Megan´s cheese, and I thought, “Oh she is going to kill him;” fortunately for Adam, Mr. Blais saved the day with another plate of cheese for Megan.

We started with Petit Basque, which is AMAZING! All the way from South France. It is pasturized, and buttery, around 3 to 12 months old. As they get older they get sweeter. I´m waiting to be 21 in the USA, so I will be able to eat the Petit Basque with some wine or good champagne. Secondly, the Brillat Saverin is slightly pasterized, about 45 and 60 days old, from Normandy. Mr. Blais told us that they call this type of cheese triple crème, because it contains 75% fat, which instantly made Sam put back the bread with the buttery cheese he just grabbed on the plate. But without a doubt, my favorite cheese was the last one, the Bayley, which has a strong flavor—a very savory blue cheese from Vermont. The second bite I took was with the pecan pistachio crisp, which was such a good mix of sweet and the saltiness of the cheese. My last bite of cheese was the same but with a little bit of jam. I think I could eat that every single day, it´s just too good. This cheese concert was awesome, and as they say: “full belly, happy heart.” –Gabi Lopez ‘18 

 

Today in Culinary Arts Club, we invited cheese connoisseur Greg Blais to our Art Building. Along with delicious appetizers, we tried seven different types of cheese.

Personally, I have tried various types of cheese without really knowing their names, but this was the first time where I actually ate them knowing the background of each cheese.

It was very interesting in a sense that there were such intricacies even in the plating of the cheese. They were laid out in a very specific order in terms of the flavor. The first cheese was mild, somewhat creamy, followed by a cycle of strong and mild cheese.  My personal favorite was Mr. Blais’s favorite, the Comte, also known as French Gruyere. It was somewhere between mild and strong, and the flavor was the most complex out of all the cheeses. I am very excited to try more types of cheese.  Culinary Arts Club ended on a very high note with one of the most important food items for a food connoisseur. I will miss this club dearly, and I might even enroll in another year at Portsmouth Abbey just for this. 🙂 –Adam Suh ‘18

 

 

 Growing up in an Italian family, with an Italian grandmother, I’ve had my fair share of cheeses. Almost everything I eat I tend to put cheese on; it’s better than salt. I used to be one that would be afraid to try new types of food because I was always afraid that I would not like it. I regret this because I’ve been missing out on a whole new world of food, particular cheeses. The first cheese that we tried was Petit Basque, which is buttery and rich. This particular cheese is a pasteurized cheese milk from France. The next two cheeses we tasted were Brillat Saverin and Beemster, both cow’s milk cheeses that are on the older side. Three of the last four cheeses were also cow’s milk cheese, which were all pasteurized and rich in flavor. My favorite cheese has to be the Beemster, which is from Northern Holland made from pasteurized cow milk and is roughly two years old. All great cheeses bursting with flavors of various countries ranging from France to the United States. Although these cheeses are not all from the same place, some of them contain similar flavors, and all age in similar but different ways. Trying each cheese without anything to compliment it, is the way cheese is supposed to be tried so the full flavor of the cheese can be experienced. As an Italian, I tend to eat everything with bread, so not eating cheese with bread was certainly a way of going out of my comfort zone. –Alex Sienkiewicz ‘18

 

For our last Culinary Arts excursion, we gathered in Mr. Calisto’s studio for a cheese tasting. As I entered the studio, a beautiful and expansive spread of fruits, nuts, breads, crackers, meats, and most importantly, cheeses greeted my eyes and nose. The spread represented so many cultures from around the world, from all corners of Europe and America. One of the points that Greg Blais made the most was the battle between cheese purists that are trying to preserve the unique nature of cheese making and those industrialists that try to mass produce cheese at the expense of the nuances that make the cheeses so great. Each cheese we sampled had something in its process that gave it a unique quality, and those qualities can’t be mass produced by an exploitative business force. The cheese industry’s unique qualities have been passed down over generations and, hopefully, will be upheld by a growing following. –Arthur Shipman ‘18

 

Having been informed about the cheese tasting today, I doubly cursed my congenital congestion, which would have disabled me from realizing the nuance in smell and tastes of the cheeses from around the world. So I ran to the infirmary and gulped down a handful of sinus decongestant and Claritin to maximize my tasting capacity. It turns out that the cheeses I tasted today were worth my initial desperate attempt.

Until today, I didn’t realize the difference between cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and sheep’s milk cheese. As a long-time fan of the Swiss Gruyère, I was delighted by the taste of Petit Basque and Comte, which both had the creamy and crunchy taste I love in Gruyère. I learned today that the crunchy texture is the result of the aging process, during which curds of the cheese lose its moisture, forming amino acids. The loss of moisture also amplified the salty taste in the cheese.

The Beemster, a Gouda-type cheese from Northern Holland, was very different from the typical cheeses I buy from Seven-Eleven and Whole Foods. It tasted so much more deep and chewy. Mr. Blais taught us that the cheese we call “Gouda,” which is a name of a town in the Netherlands, is not really Gouda. We call Gouda “Gouda” because unlike European cheese farms, United States does not have a law protecting the names of cheese ,like patents for inventions. Retailers can call it whatever they want. The name “Gouda” is merely a marketing tool used by cheese retailers because it is name familiar to customers.

The industrial food market of America may have commoditized cheese to a degree that people no longer know where their food comes from. I wholeheartedly agreed with Mr. Blais when he criticized the growing trend of food culture that completely ignores the origin of a food, such as genetically modified food. Now that I’m aware of that fact, I should take more time to recognize where my food comes from.–Jason Lim ‘18

 

It was one of the most memorable times for me to taste several different kinds of cheese at the same time with various snacks around. Seven kinds surrounded a plate in the shape of a clock. It was the order of the cheese that had to be tasted first for maximized flavors for each of them. I grabbed some cranberry pistachio crisps, salami, plain crackers and ground duck liver, and took a seat.

The first cheese in the order was Petit Basque, which directly means “little cheese from Basque,” a certain region from Southern France. Since it was made from sheep’s milk cheese, the flavor was soft but rich at the same time. It is a well-known kind of cheese wiith a buttery and rich texture. Also, it was really milky. The second one had a completely different shape. Unlike Petit Basque that was a firm solid, Brillat Saverin was almost a liquid form, having a different layer of a cover on top. It was a kind of cheese from a cow’s milk in Normandy region. It was even called “triple-cream” because of an excessive buttery texture. The tastes of the outside layer and inner layer were totally different. The inside was really creamery, almost like liquid. However, the outside surface was really solidified, rich and even smelt strong. It also has a slight taste of sourness.

The third one was definitely the best one. It was called Beemster, also well-known as “Gouda” in America. It was a cow cheese from Northern Holland, having some acidic, sour, and salty flavors at the same time. The crunchy texture was not expected from cheese, but it was my favorite part of Beemster.  Humboldt Fog is a goat’s milk cheese from California, fermented for 60 days. It had a strong goat smell and the flavor was really heavy; I thought it would go well with some plain crackers. Comte, raw milk cheese, had a clean, simple taste. The texture was not hard or soft, but can mostly be explained as hard. Taleggio was a cow cheese from Northern Italy regions which would, of course, go well with Italian wines. The last one was also my other favorite one, Bayley. It is well-known as Blue Cheese across the world, and the source was American cows from Northern Vermont.

The order of tasting was impressive; washing my mouth with some water when I moved from one cheese to another made me refresh my taste buds. The flavors were maximized, and I fully enjoyed the complete value of cheese, the oldest snack in the world. –Scarlet Shin ‘18

 

 

 

For our last event of the 2018 year, we were fortunate enough to have an amazing cheese tasting with cheese monger Greg Blais. We walked into a room full of breads, sliced meats, and fruits on display, and at the center table were plates of cheese. As soon as I saw those plates, I was so excited. I have always loved cheese but never experienced cheese any better than what you can buy from your average market. The tasting was set in a specific order so that we would have a rollercoaster of flavor experiences and would not get overwhelmed. We started with the Petit Basque, which was a pasteurized sheep’s milk from France. It was a light tan yellow color and tasted as it looked. It was a solid piece of cheese but was very creamy and smooth with a slight tang to it. The next cheese was Brillat Savarin from Normandy, France. Mr. Blais explained that it was such a gooey cheese because of its “triple cream,” which means that is made of 3/4 butter. Its rind was the only thing keeping the sour cheese together. Next we tasted the Beemster. It was a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from northern Holland. I liked the cheese because of the crunchy tyrosine crystals that developed over time, but the cheese was also very tangy. I really liked the Humboldt Fog cheese, which was a pasteurized goat cheese from California. It was creamier towards the rind and then more crumbly towards the end of the cheese. It was very acidic and had a woody aftertaste. It was very good paired with the fig jam on a slice of bread. The Comte cheese was a French Gruyere and was our first raw milk cheese. It was a very compact cheese with mild flavor. I considered this to be the most “plain” cheese of all of them. Next was the Taleggio cheese. It was a pasteurized cow cheese from Northern Italy. Mr. Blais continued to tell us about the background of where the cheese was from. Lastly, we had the strongest tasting cheese, which was a strong and salty bleu cheese from Vermont. Mr. Blais explained that when making the cheese, they needle the cheese, which creates pockets of mold, which was fascinating. The cheese tasting was amazing because of how Mr. Blais presented and told us everything that we needed to know. –India Roemlein ‘19

 

Growing up in China, I never really tasted or loved cheese. As a matter of fact, my mom was so shocked that I started eating cheese in a chunk after I came to America. “How can you eat something so rich??!!” She turned her face away. Also, after last summer in Italy, I became absolutely obsessed with cheese tasting. But sadly, I only had access to cheese in the dining hall or on the plane. Thanks to the hospitality of Greg Blais cheesemonger to the stars, we Culinary Art Club members were blessed to taste delicious cheese.

Before the tasting started, I had roast beef on bread, prosciutto, crackers, paté, grapes, almond, and dried apricots. Among all, I love paté most. The tasting started with Petit Basque cheese, which is a three-month-old sheep-milk cheese from Southwest France. It is very buttery and rich. I loved the taste. Then, we moved to Brillat Saverin, which is a cow-milk cheese from either Normandy or Burgundy. It is named after a food philosopher. It is very liquefied and has 75% fat. There are curds in Brillat Saverin, and the cheese has been pasteurized for less than 60 days. There was even laws in the US regarding pasteurization time. Beemster is the next one that is two-year-old cow-milk cheese from northern Holland. According to Mr. Blais, it goes well with whiskey and beer (but, unfortunately, we could not have the pleasure). It is very firm because the older a cheese is, the more it shrinks and loses moisture. I could also taste salt chunks in Beemster. Then Humboldt Fog, the American cheese from California, is made from goat milk. The line of ash in the cheese resembles the horizon in Marin County, CA. I didn’t really enjoy the sour taste. Comte is my favorite. It is name-protected, unpasteurized French raw milk cheese. I love the sweet taste and firm texture. It melts well in the mouth very subtly. Molds grow on the skin of the Comte, which is 16 months old. Taleggio has a fruity flavor and jelly texture; I didn’t love the taste. The last one is Bayley, an American raw cow milk blue cheese from northern Vermont. It is needled to let oxygen in. The salty taste is neutralized with fig jam and sweet crackers.

After we finished the cheese plate in clockwise order, everyone was filled and satisfied. That was an amazing wrap up to all the food adventures this year at Culinary Art Club. –Elaine Jiang ‘18

Our Culinary Arts Club ended the season with an amazing cheese tasting event with Mr. Greg Blais, master cheesemonger. Walking into the room, Mr. Blais, Mrs. Bonin, and Mr. Calisto welcomed us with plates of various cheeses and selections of absolutely delicious appetizers, including roast beef, duck liver paté, salami, etc… Mr. Blais provided us with seven different selections of cheese (Petit Basque, Brillat Saverin, Beemster, Humboldt Fog, Comte, Taleggio, Bayley) and placed them clockwise in a favorable tasting order ranking from savory to creamy, etc… As we moved along the circle tasting all these different kinds of high quality cheese, Mr. Blais filled us up with information on each kind of cheese like how they are made, what they are made of, how they are stored, and all kinds of professional information about them. My favorite cheese of all was the Bayley blue cheese. It was the most salty one out of the seven. Combined with the fig jam and sweet crackers, the savoriness of the blue cheese balanced out perfectly with the sweetness of the jam and cracker, creating a harmonious, delicious combination delighting the taste buds. Due to Mr. Greg Blais’s generosity and patient explanation, this has been an unforgettable experience, and a perfect way to end our amazing Culinary Art’s journey. –Samuel Ding ‘18

I love cheese. I put cheese on my crackers, lay cheese between burger buns, and melt it in my ramen. However, I never got to know the different types of cheese; all I knew was cream cheese, cheesecake cheese, and cheese ball cheese. We tried seven kinds of cheese today, from the light buttery Petit Basque to the Bayley blue cheese that ruins your fridge. Each type of cheese comes from a specific group of cows or goats that live in a specific region. It is really great get to know the stories behind the cheese, like the one about crazy pastors that get you drunk as a frat-entrance drinking test before they sell you cheese from their shelves. Personally, my favorite cheese is Comte from France. It is an unpasteurized cow-milk cheese and it offers a special taste that resembles butter but is so much richer. I’m looking forward to Mr. Blais’s new cheese store in Bristol and getting some late night snacks from time to time. –Peter Liu ‘19

 

 I’ve never tasted this many cheeses at once, and it was definitely a memorable experience of the Culinary Arts Club. I thought I would like the more traditional cheese more but to my surprise, my three favorites were the Humboldt Fog, the Brilliant Saverin, and the Bayley. The Humboldt had a strong flavor of goat’s milk, which I really enjoyed, mixed with a light hint of saltiness. I also enjoyed the gooey texture of the Brillat Saverin, however, it was a little too salty. The only cheese I didn’t like too much was the Beemster, which had a firm and crunchy texture.

The appetizers were great combos with the cheese; the cracker with pistachio cranberry crisps went well with the jam and the bayley cheese, which is a strong blue cheese.

The duck liver pate had a taste of richness and went well with the little bread as well as the crackers.

It was fun learning facts about the cheese when tasting them, including learning about how name protection works on cheese and what parts of the world make great cheese.

I am very excited about the new cheese shop opening in Bristol and would love to try more of the Humboldt Fog at the store. –Katherine Wang ‘18

The aromas of the stinky, fruity, nutty, and cheesy cheeses wafted from our neatly organized plates. Faced with a wheel of seven different cheeses hand selected by the esteemed cheese monger Greg Blais, we dove head first. With Subway offering the most exotic selection of cheeses in my day-to-day life, this was a very eye-opening experience to the wide world of cheese. Petit Basque, Beemster, and Humboldt Fog hailing from all corners of the world offered new textures and flavor palates. My favorite would definitely have to be the stinky Bayley blue cheese from Greensboro, Vermont. The salty, overpowering flavor of this cheese rippled with blue veins paired amazingly with the sweet of the fig jam and cranberry pistachio crackers. The other hors d’oeuvres included the liver patê on a bread crisp paired with a salty, acidic dill pickle, which I ate way too many of. This tasting has allowed me to really appreciate all of the work, stories, and history that goes into the flavor of a good cheese. And in the future, I hope to be able to take Mr. Blais up on his pairing suggestions for wines and booze to go with the different cheeses. — Thomas Teravainen ‘18

 

 This Sunday, the 20th of May, we got to taste cheese from all over the world with Master Cheese Monger Greg Blais. There were seven different types of cheese: Petite Basque, Brillat Saverin, Beemster, Humboldt Fog, Comte, Taleggio, and Bayley.

Overall, my experience was a great one. The cheeses I tasted were out of this world. But there was one that was my favorite by far, Petite Basque. Even though this was the first cheese we tasted, I think that it was the best combination of smooth and sharp. On the outside, it appeared to be a thicker and more dense cheese, but once I took a bite I realized I was very wrong. This cheese was 3-month-old pasteurized sheep’s milk from Basque Country in Spain. I’d like to personally thank Mr. Blais for coming to the Abbey and giving the Culinary Club and myself a tasting we will never forget.~Daniel Sliney ‘18

For three summers, I spent my days behind the counter of Newport Gourmet’s cheese department. I also spent those first two summers lying through my teeth to tourists and regulars alike about everything having to do with the cheese we sold. I was pretty good, but for my third summer, I decided to become dedicated. I spent three months sampling, reading, and selling countless cheeses, and only picked up about ten extra pounds on the way. At today’s tasting with Greg Blais, we tasted seven cheeses that I thought I knew a lot about already. That was stupid of me. Mr. Blais knows Literally Everything having to do with cheese. From the flavor, to the pairings, to the science of actually making it–he knew every step in detail and had a story of his personal experience with each cheese to boot. It was really cool. I learned so much and realized just how much more there was to know. My favorites were the Beemster Gouda and the Bayley Hazen Bleu, but I realize it’s a bit pedestrian to love the Beemster as much as I do. Nonetheless, they’re just great cheeses. Mr. Blais really knew what he was talking about, and it was even better because he so obviously loved it, which made us love it. Thank you Greg Blais!!—Sydell Bonin ‘18 

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