Most of our favorite cheeses—the ones we crave, the ones we brag about, the ones that grace our tables when our good friends come over—have been around for centuries. Monks have been busy making Tete de Moine in the Swiss Jura Mountains for some 800 years; Parmigiano-Reggiano dates from the middle ages. That makes Camembert, first crafted in Normandy in the late 18th Century, a relative baby.
So when a brand new cheese gets hatched, our ears perk up.
American cheeses are new by definition. We are teenage cheesemakers to Europe’s sage grownups—experimenting like crazy, discovering our identity.
Cheese heads have enormous respect for Laura Chenel, one of the first American artisan cheesemakers. The Sonoma, California goat cheese savant turned Americans on to the wonders of goat cheese, and paved the way for Americans to start making great small production, big hearted cheeses.
In the late 70’s, Lara Chenel was just a girl with some goats, hoping to supplement her waitressing tips with a little cheese business on the side. And so she took off to visit dairy scientist Jean-Claude Le Jaouen in France, who taught her enough that she could return to Sonoma and start crafting lovely, fluffy little pillows of fresh chevre.
Which is precisely what she did. And she was good at it. Soon Alice Waters-era Californians—and Alice Waters herself!—were buying her cheese in an excited flurry. The waitressing gig was forfeited, and Laura Chenel Chevre grew into a booming biz. Laura hired employees, purchased goats, land, and equipment. Hundreds of pounds of cheese turned into thousands, and then a million.
In 2006 Laura sold her goat cheese empire to the Rians Group, a French company who specializes in running small family dairies. Cue major stir! They might be a big company, but they believe in maintaining the integrity of little cheesemakers.
For a while, Fairway’s relationship with Laura Chenel went on hold. But Avanelle, our incredible cheese buyer, went to visit this year and was majorly impressed with the quality of cheeemaking, the passion, and the attention to detail. The cheese itself? Awesome! Once again Laura Chenel’s fabulous cheeses are gracing the shelves of Fairway, and we’re thrilled about that.
I love the sweet goat logs for slicing onto salads and serving atop baguettes with toasted pecans and some of our Super Premium Balsamic. We sell little jars of olive oil-marinated chevre, which make for easy and perfect cocktail friends all on their lonesome.
But my hands down favorite–and a Fairway exclusive!–is Laura Chenel’s Melodie. It’s an American Original–not just a wannabe copy of a European cheese. It’s adolescent rebellion gone right. It’s what happens when a beloved California cheesemaker gets a visit from France.
It is indeed melodious–smooth and supple; lactic, creamy, just salty enough, The 3 pound wheel is coated in ash for a pretty grey and white rind, and develops some welcome funk with age (think 100 days). Still, it’s mild and friendly. A good cheese for newbies, and kids, and melting til fabulously gooey in a panini. Or serve after dinner, nestled with some soft-dried figs, and you will be the hostess with the mostess.