Gouda times: Artisan festival celebrates local cheeseries

Jun. 29, 2013 @ 08:32 PM

Fig and honey cheese spreads, dark chocolate cheesecake bites, fresh bread and flowing wine enticed hundreds of foodies to Saturday afternoon’s Artisan Cheese Fest.

The fest was the first of its kind hosted by The Cookery, a food production hangout for local businesses, and American Meltdown, a prominent Durham food truck that specializes in gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.

Vendors, from Cultured Cow Creamery in South Durham to Weaver Street Market in Carrboro, passed out cheese samples and sold slices to attendees.

Eric Mason and his wife, Janice, traveled six hours from Atlanta to attend the fest. His cousin works with American Meltdown, and the first thing they sampled was a macaroni and cheese infused with truffle oil.

They stood with cheese samples on sticks in a corner, surrounded by the giant crowd.

“I think we’re just going to take what we can get,” Eric said, eyeing the swarm of cheese lovers.

The Cookery was packed within the first 30 minutes of the fest. Event organizers had to resort to crowd control at the front doors. As one frustrated passerby put it, “Let’s just go outside and drink.”

The line waiting to get inside The Cookery wrapped around the building and down a side street.

La Farm Bakery based in Cary had baskets of cracked and floured ciabatta bread for sale. The neighboring booth was home to Chapel Hill Creamery, which sold bags of fresh mozzarella and pieces of calvander, which is aged seven months, made with raw milk and pairs great with pasta.

Raleigh resident Linda Bohnel left The Cookery with a bag of La Farm ciabatta bread, goat cheese and fig and honey cheese spread from Goat Lady Dairy, based in Climax. She said she loves to buy local and just stopped by to pick up a few supplies.

“I’m going to have some friends over with some wine and cheese,” Bohnel said.

Upstairs, Billy Cotter, owner of Toast Italian sandwich shop located along Durham’s Main Street, was bringing raw, whole milk from Chapel Hill Creamery to a slow boil. He would soon dump about a cup of distilled white vinegar into the pot, allowing the milk to separate and curdle.

Cotter was making fresh ricotta, which he strained through a cheese cloth. At the restaurant, he would pair it with good spring vegetables, such as spring peas or fava beans.

“When it’s warm and it’s fresh, it’s very rich and it’s very creamy,” Cotter said. “… This will have a lot more of a butteriness to it.”

Across the table, Matthew Daniels, co-owner of Triangle Raw Foods, whipped up a ricotta made from cashews. He has been an on again, off again vegan for 26 years.

He layered the cashew-based ricotta on slices of local zucchini, then topped it with fresh marinara sauce. Daniels said he tries to bring the consistency of a cheese spread to vegans, something that’s lacking in a vegan’s diet.

“I’m the only non-cheese guy at a cheese show,” he said.

In the middle of the room, This Little Piggie based in Chapel Hill offered the crowd cheese spreads on crackers. Durham’s Milk & Honey Bakery sold cheesecake bites, which included a dark chocolate and lavender pairing.

Longtime Durham residents Geoffrey and Margaret Wainwright sat in chairs, picking into a melted grilled cheese from American Meltdown. Geoffrey, a former teacher at Duke’s Divinity School, picked up pieces of the cheddar, burger and braised onion on rye.

“Cheese is my favorite category of food,” he said. “But if there’s a glass of wine to go with it, that’s even better.”