SideDoor’s resident cheese expert, Tracy Nelsen, teaches a cheese education class during the semiannual Cheese & Charcuterie Backyard Party hosted at the English pub within Five Crowns.(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot )
A sample plate of cheese awaits each participant for a cheese education class at SideDoor in Corona del Mar on Wednesday.(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot )
Participants take notes and get ready to sample the cheeses on offer at SideDoor in Corona del Mar on Wednesday.(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot )
Richard Perez, left, and his wife Diane and Linda Beach, right, taste different cheeses during SideDoor’s cheese education class.(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot )
Leslie Collup takes notes as Doug Hedenkamp takes a bite of cheese during a cheese education class at SideDoor in Corona del Mar.(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot )
A cheese table for customers at SideDoor on Wednesday.(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot )
One of the cheeses available to attendees of the Cheese & Charcuterie Backyard Party hosted by SideDoor in Corona del Mar on Wednesday.(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot )
The moment I heard there was cheese, I was in.
Cheese is my favorite food. All types. My Twitter account proves this.
So it didn’t take long to confirm my attendance to Corona del Mar’s cheesiest event of the month: the semiannual Cheese & Charcuterie Backyard Party hosted by SideDoor, the English pub within Five Crowns.
The event featured as beautiful a buffet as anyone could find: a table of cheeses, more than 15, of all types and persuasions for all palates. A second smaller table featured some charcuterie.
First, however, participants were treated to a cheese education class led by Tracy Nelsen, SideDoor’s resident cheese connoisseur, sommelier, cicerone (the beer version of a sommelier) and a budding certified spirits specialist.
Cheese connoisseur? If only I had known that was a career option ...
Nelsen knows her stuff. She is SideDoor’s primary buyer of meats and cheeses.
She is certified by the American Cheese Society, a Denver-based group with more than 2,400 members that provides nationwide standards and encourages top-notch cheese-making. Nelsen noted the society’s test was harder than becoming a sommelier and cicerone.
“It was just an enormous amount of information, and I’m too old to take these tests!” she quipped.
Nelsen then delved into a series of very technical details about making cheese, an art that’s thousands of years old. She said there are eight basic steps: setting the milk, cutting the curds, cooking and holding, draining and dipping, curd fusion, pressing, salting, and curing and treatments.
Technical words and descriptions were thrown about — coagulating, acidifying, breaking molecules, hydrophobic molecules, whey.
“A bunch of organic chemistry that no one really cares about,” Nelsen admitted before adding that everyone really just wanted to taste and eat. We did.
So, to bring her points home, participants ate nine cheese samples — accompanied by a little beer and chardonnay — that exemplified those stages. Notable among those was a sheep ricotta from Sonoma County’s Bellwether Farms. The light, fluffy mixture looked like cottage cheese yet was almost flavorless. Nevertheless, it was like a cloud in your mouth and, when used in a cheesecake circulated around the party later on, was a tiny slice of heaven.
SideDoor does these cheese outings pretty regularly, so take heed of these future dates.
“Cheese Takeovers” take place every third Wednesday (the next ones are set for Feb. 20, March 20, April 17, May 15 and June 19) followed by the next Cheese & Charcuterie Backyard Party on July 17 and January 2020. The takeovers, which don’t require tickets like the party does, showcase cheeses from a select supplier.
I’m told February’s monthly Cheese Takeover will feature English cheese; then in March, it will showcase Hook’s, a creamery based in Wisconsin.
Tickets for July’s Cheese & Charcuterie Party will be available on Five Crowns’ Eventbrite page as it gets closer to the event. You can subscribe to Five Crowns’ email newsletter to be notified when tickets go on sale.
Nelsen also told her attendees something that seems all too obvious now: The best place online to find out more about cheese is Cheese.com.
“It’s a great website,” Nelsen explained. “I use it all the time.”
Bradley Zint is a contributor to Times Community News.