It is always interesting to watch a blog evolve from concept to post. We think of an idea, plan our angle, schedule a time, and then dig in! However, more often than not, the direction changes midway and the blog post takes on a life of its own. That was exactly our experience at the Reliable Cheese Company on East Chapel Hill Street in Durham.
We selected Reliable Cheese for a post because we had both visited the shop independently and liked the ability to sample and learn about specialty cheese while making a selection tailored to a menu. We planned to order sandwiches and ask Patrick Coleff—the owner and humble cheese savant—advice about buying cheese for those of us who are less familiar with the gourmet market. We left the shop with three fresh-made sandwiches and a sample platter of five cheeses chosen for us by Patrick.
Our next “Hot off the Press” sandwich selection (available daily) was the prosciutto, roncal and membrillo. We both found this to be our favorite of the three sandwiches because of the salty meat, sweet membrillo (a sweet spread) and creamy roncal cheese combination. All the flavors in this sandwich were distinct and played off each other well.
We were both impressed by the quality of the ingredients and the care with which the sandwiches were made. The down side to enjoying one of Reliable Cheese’s sandwiches is the lack of dining space, but we realize it’s not a restaurant. Durham’s local businesses do a great job of supporting each other, and we were told several places including Scratch and Fullsteam would likely be open to sharing their spaces.
When we ordered our cheese plate we asked for Patrick’s help in putting something together that would provide a good overview to a cheese novice—we relied entirely on his recommendations which he said would cover mild to adventurous (gulp!). His passion and knowledge of his product shows as soon as he opens his mouth and he even typed up a listing with the names and origins of each selection.
Neither of us would consider ourselves to be picky eaters, but this part of the lunch turned out to be a true challenge for one of us. It appears that being raised on Velveeta and Kraft Singles may have stunted our taste and tolerance for exotic cheese. Some of the selections had very strong odors and varying textures that were a bit intimidating, but we both managed to give them all a (sometimes reluctant) try. It was actually exciting to have a food experience that pushed the limits of our taste preferences.
Below is the list of cheeses we sampled in the order they were eaten and with brief descriptions/reactions—as we are new to this scene we are also new to describing these flavors and found that to be a challenge as well:
• Grayson mini (raw cow’s milk/Galax, VA)—very smelly with strong aftertaste, smoky
• Bra Duro Alpeggio (raw cow’s milk/Cuneo, Italy)—dry and mild
• La Serena (raw sheep’s milk/Extramadura, Spain)—soft and stinky, dipped in beer
• La Peral (raw cow’s milk/Asturias, Spain)—a salty blue on the milder side
• Lou Bergier Pichin (raw cow’s milk/Piedmonte, Italy)—very smooth and mild
After our tasting adventure and out of curiosity, we looked online for resources to hone our knowledge and etiquette. As it turns out, it is good form to smell the cheese before you eat it as our taste is heavily guided by scent. Using your fingers is acceptable, particularly with hard varieties, and it is best to enjoy the cheese on its own (at least on first bite) to experience the full flavor. Crackers and figs are used to cleanse the palate between each type and you are perfectly fine to eat the rind if you find it appetizing.
For more thorough instruction and information check out the links we’ve included below—and of course, we recommend you go to Reliable and let Patrick create a custom cheese adventure for you!
The Cheesemonger: How to Eat Cheese
The Cheesemonger: How to Taste Cheese
Chow: Know Your Cheese - A Glossary of Cheese Terms
Chow: Stinky to Mild - How to Build a Cheese Plate
Chow: How to Eat a Cheese Plate