Immortal Milk at Central Market

"Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality."-Clifton Paul Fadiman, author, editor, radio host (1904-1999)

Clark Wolf loves cheese -- and cheesy wit. As I adjusted my camera to capture the gorgeous array of artisanal cheese and fruit displayed at the front of the room during his Cheese Tasting 101 course Sunday evening at the Central Market Cooking School, the author, consultant, and cheese expert piped in, "They say cheese!"

When asked if I could get his picture in front of the display, he laughed, "Yes!" and posed, "I stand before my cheeses."

The class would be peppered with such humor, along with Wolf's infectious enthusiasm for fromage.

"Cheese Tasting 101": Clark Wolf

Fresh (paired with Prosecco) Fromage Blanc, Fresh Goat Cheese (Laura Chenel), Cream Cheese Soft Ripened Mt. Tam Wash Rind (paired with Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René beer) Red Hawk, Winnimore (Jasper Hill) Semi Soft Pleasant Ridge, Tarentais Firm Windmer Cheddar, Fiscalini Cheddar Hard Vella DryJack Goat (paired with sparkling apple cider) Bon Buche, Smoked Capri (Westfield Farm) Blue (a.k.a. Bleu) Bayley Hazen Blue, Rogue Creamery

Wolf explained that cheese was what first ignited his passion for food. After working as a waiter on a railroad line, he then opened a cheese and wine shop at the base of Nob Hill in San Francisco, where a chance meeting led to a friendship (and dinners, once a week) with the Godfather himself, James Beard. When asked what was served on these occasions, "It was always a surprise. Once I arrived to find the old, 350-pound man wielding a blowtorch over a four-quart pan. He took a spoon and said, 'Listen to this!' and (thwack), 'That's what crème brûlée should sound like!' Then I learned what crème brûlée should taste like. We ate the entire thing...and I learned about the importance of benchmarks." Wolf, like Beard, believes in order to accurately judge whether something is good or not, one must first taste the standard-setters in that arena. It's a simple concept that made for an all-around decadent and delicious Sunday evening.

Random Cheesiness

  • Cheese for the lactose intolerant: Aged cheeses. A cheese more than 60 days old will not contain lactose
  • Cheese for lacto-ovo vegetarians: Some lacto-ovo vegetarians are still squeamish about the animal rennet used in cheese production. However, certain thistles or the stem of a fig will produce similar results. A knowledgeable retailer should be able to direct you to plant-based cheeses.
  • Toning down "stinky cheeses": If a cheese is too strong for your taste--a coat of unsalted, sweet butter will take the flavor down a few notches.
  • Cheese etiquette: If you're entertaining, set soft cheeses out an hour or two before the guests arrive, and half a day prior for everything else (allows cheese to breath and reach room temperature).

Central Market's salute to cheese (Hail to the Cheese) runs through October 26. To download a .pdf version of their Clark Wolf recommended "Cheese Guide," click here.

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