Foreign Travel is Risky Business at Times, But So Worth It!
Last August, at the start of another Cheese Journey, I found myself racing to the airport in an NYC cab and feeling a twinge of anxiety about a few of the upcoming unknowns. Trying to reassure myself, I quickly closed my eyes and began thinking about one of my first European adventures. The words of a Canadian traveler began ringing in my ears – acting as a calming reminder.
Worshipping at the “Comté Cathedral” and Whipping Up Memories with Chef Norbert
Many often ask me, “Where in Europe do you enjoy traveling the most?” While I haven’t scoured the entire continent yet, and though my German and Czech roots run deep, it’s the alpine regions straddling France and Switzerland—the people, the culture, and the cheeses—that pull at my heartstrings like nowhere else.
Several years ago, I fell in love with the people and the food culture of Philadelphia, thanks to Tenaya Darlington, a.k.a Madame Fromage, and Emilio Mignucci, owner of the legendary specialty food store, DiBruno Bros. The city’s neighborhoods struck me as diverse and authentic, full of both critically acclaimed restaurants and cozy taco stands. Outside the city, the beautiful farms and rolling hills of Chester County remind me of the rural countryside, where I grew up, in the Midwest.
A Cheddar Odyssey: Exploring Somerset, London, and Devon
When Americans travel to Europe in search of great food culture, they usually head to France, Italy, or Spain. As a cheese lover, I have always had a soft spot for England – it’s the birthplace of cheddar. And who doesn’t love a proper cheddar? The depth of flavor and the toothsome crumb of a world-class cheddar, like Montgomery’s, is unsurpassed.
Discovering Beppino Occelli and his ‘Dessert Cheeses’
It was another one of those serendipitous connections made on a family trip that led me to Beppino Occelli and his ‘dessert cheeses’. About six years ago, a couple of years before launching Cheese Journeys, we were all feeling the stress of NYC life and dreaming of a vacation in some out-of-the-way part of Italy—where we could set camp for a couple of weeks and indulge in our passion for good food, sightseeing, and local culture.
The Birth of a Cheese: Witnessing Traditional Alpine Cheesemaking
Whether you’re a professional who’s witnessed it countless times in different settings or a true novice, the chance to see cheese made by hand over an open fire in a big copper kettle full of piping hot whey and unseen floating curds—the way it’s been done for thousands of years—is truly a special and unforgettable experience. If you’ve never fully understood it, that magical moment of formation (formaggio) is the only explanation you’ll ever need.
Some say it started with our 20-year-old Swiss au pair Katja. Actually, for me, it goes back to my father’s exotic family trips to remote places, sharing his love of travel and a few survival skills at a young age. And to my mother, who was also adventurous and loved to entertain, often using European recipes, which were quite sophisticated for her time and place.
At a point not too long ago, Swiss Cheese in America meant one of the PDO cheeses: Gruyère, Emmentaler, Appenzeller, Sprinz. In 1999, after a relaxing of the rules around production of innovative, new cheeses utilizing the country's high quality milk, a new crop of small-production artisan cheeses began to appear. Many of these small producers would have remained a Swiss secret but for the efforts of Caroline Hostettler and her vision to bring these gems to the US market.
Cheese has been a staple on our plates for millennia but rarely has it been elevated to the stand-alone subject of fine art. That changed in 2012 when Philadelphia artist Mike Geno turned his creative energy toward wedge-shaped beauties. Over the past 5 years, Geno has made a splash painting nearly 300 different cheeses from around the world.
At the end of this summer, in mid-September, Cheese Journeys visits Northern Italy—a food lover’s paradise and land of Barolo, truffles and world-class cheese. Cheese Journeys CEO Anna Juhl teams with award-winning cheese book author and Wine Spectator columnist David Gibbons to co-host this 10-day adventure, featuring an itinerary brimming with exclusive, behind-the- scenes visits to exceptional producers and purveyors of this region’s most notable foods and wines.