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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Just Say Cheese

By Mike Lauterborn
2010. All Rights Reserved.

There was no green beer being served here but there were a few green spots on a round of Bonne Bouche cheese.

On Wednesday, March 17th (St. Patty's Day), the Fairfield Cheese Company in Fairfield, CT, co-owned by Laura Downey and Chris Palumbo (pictured far left and far right in the adjacent photo), hosted Allison Hooper (center in photo), owner of Vermont Creamery and author of "In a Cheesemaker's Kitchen". Hooper came down from the Creamery's Websterville, VT offices to provide a tasting of a few of the Creamery's leading cheeses and promote her book. The latter celebrates the Creamery's 25 years of artisanal cheesemaking and cooking. Harry's Wine & Liquor Market supported the event with a couple bottles of white Loire wine, which tastefully complemented the spread.

In addition to the wine and cheese, there was a 3-tier plate tower offering slivers of goat cheese crostini with grilled vegetables Palumbo had prepared. The crostini recipe is included in Hooper's book and was a key driver of book purchases.

Though the two-hour event competed with the Irish holiday, a steady stream of folks, who had received advance email notices, circled through. Almost invariably, each attendee purchased cheese and/or a book. The event seemed a good fit with the demanding palette of a well-heeled Fairfield crowd that quickly recognizes quality and fine taste. As one sharply dressed mom, with two children in tow sporting green for the holiday, stepped up and made a quick selection and purchase, Hooper said, "That was easy. That's how it's done!"

One attendee, Christine Mangone, was particularly enthused to be there and meet Hooper. "We love your products!" she gushed to the cheesemaker/author. Mangone is an account executive for a New Jersey-based fine foods distributor, Harry Wils & Co. and manages the pipelining of products to retail and restaurant accounts in Connecticut. She applauded Hooper's product line as really meeting the needs of today's consumer. "People want local products. It's a trend. They want to know where they are grown, what the cows are eating, dietary info... what they're feeding their kids." Mangone is also a chef who was CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) trained, so is an appropriately qualified person to make this assessment.

Featured on the tasting table, book-ended between a vase of tulips and tray of lillies, was a stack of Hooper's books, baskets of Whitney's Castleton crackers (made by a friend of Hooper's) and several rounds of varied cheese. Among the latter was Coupole aged goat cheese, the aforementioned Bonne Bouche and cute little pods of Bijou aged goat cheese. There were also several tubs of creamy goat cheese in flavors that included olive & herb, classic and roasted red pepper.

"Am I too early?" asked a stylishly attired elder woman stepping up to the tasting area. Hooper assured her that she wasn't and detected a love of goat cheese. As she explained the varieties to the visitor, you could hear an adoration for cheese in her voice. She made an instant fan of the woman after only a few quickly enjoyed samples.

"Congratulations, I would love a copy of your book," yet another enthusiastic cheese sampler declared, extending a warm greeting to Hooper. The author was only too happy to accommodate, penning her John Hancock inside her book's front cover.

"So, you have our own goats?" visitor Karen Stansbury Esq. asked Hooper, selecting some Bonne Bouche and butter to purchase. "We used to," Hooper replied, "Now we buy the milk." The customer pressed, "I have one horse and it kills me," to which Hooper playfully chided, "I have three boys and they kill me!" Stansbury kept the banter going: "I've been thinking of getting a goat or two to keep my horse company. Would she kill them?" Hooper: "No, but then I don't know your horse." Cheesy humor one might say.

Event attendees, many tanned from the recent spate of warmer southwestern Connecticut weather that had followed an aggressive storm system, continued to pop in and out. Observing them, Hooper chirped, "Everyone looks tan but me. I'm a Vermonter." Then, when another attendee pointed out that the Coupole cheese looked like a brain, without missing a beat Hooper said, "James Michener grew up on it. It looks a little scary, but it's excellent."

Downey and Palumbo were glad to have Hooper onsite to draw attention to their fledgling business, a cornerstone in Fairfield after only 10 months. The duo has forged a partnership that is flourishing. Palumbo's wife Leigh, who also works in the shop, pointed out that the Fairfield Cheese Company's presence adds to the growing mix of retailers in town offering European-style fare, like baguettes, wine and now cheese. "It's all part of the green movement," she noted.

Cheese... it's the bee's knees... and it is sure to please.

Visit the Fairfield Cheese Company at 2090 Post Road, Fairfield. 203-292-8194