Queso Diego February 2016 newsletter with February meeting RSVP link inside
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Message from the President

Welcome and thank you!

We had a great turnout at our first meeting at AleSmith Brewing Company. We welcomed several new members to our group, so if you see a new face, please don't be afraid to introduce yourself!

Thank you to everyone who made our first meeting at AleSmith a success, particularly the Queso Diego Board of Officers who arrived early to set up, brought extra tables and chairs, and helped with memberships. I also want to thank our members for giving this new location a chance and adhering to the rules of our new space!

If you have any ideas for our meetings, social events, or concerns, I'm here to listen!

Alyssa Humbert
(pron: uh-LEE-shah)
2016 Queso Diego President
Queso Diego Newsletter Editor-In-Chief

Next meeting: March 16

The March meeting will focus on bloomy rind cheeses, presented by Don Axe. We would love it if you bring a homemade or storebought bloomy rind cheese to share! (Other goodies are also welcome!

This meeting will be held at 6:30PM on Tuesday, March 15, at AleSmith Brewery
9990 AleSmith Court
San Diego, CA 92126

We will be in a room off to the side of the Tasting Room - you can enter through an exterior door on the left of the main entrance. Meetings are free, but we highly recommend bringing something tasty to share and joining as a member for $20/year. Please bring a chair to sit on. Outside alcohol is not permitted.

Please RSVP as soon as possible so we can get an accurate headcount! RSVP here:

February meeting recap: Mediterranean Cheeses

Thanks to everyone who followed the rules at our new location, AleSmith Brewery, and Chris Banker who presented on Mediterranean cheeses. Chris shared a generous array of cheeses from the Mediterranean region and we met a good handful of new Queso Diego members - welcome!

That's Amore

By Jeffree Wyn Itrich, Queso Diego Member since 2012

Part 1 of Jeffree's series on Italian Cheeses

When I think of Italian cheese I recall the song, That’s Amore, made famous by Dean Martin in the 1950s film, The Caddy with Jerry Lewis.   If you don’t know Italian, amore means “love” and that pretty much defines my relationship with all things Italian, but especially their cheese.  Italian cheeses, yum, just the words folding over your lips brings up gustatory pleasures. And there’s good precedent why their cheeses are so extraordinary: like its many neighbors several Italian cheeses are PDO (protected designation of origin) which establishes traditional methods for Italian cheese production and certifies they are made with local ingredients within controlled regions of Italy. Any question why these cheeses are so darn good?

Before I go into the cheeses let’s cover a little history. Italian cheese making began over 2,000 years ago during the Roman Empire. As early as the first century AD, Romans invented cheese presses to press cheese curd. They were the first to experiment with aging cheese under different conditions in order to produce specific flavors, textures and aromas. The Roman Empire continued to refine their cheese making process, dispersing their cheese aging techniques throughout its empire across Europe. 

After the fall of the Roman Empire, many of the techniques they pioneered were largely abandoned, only to survive in isolated areas such as in the mountains or monasteries Individual Italian states developed their own identities and traditions which resulted in cheeses unique to each region. To this day local ingredients, soil, grasses, weather and customs play a large role in the types of cheeses produced throughout the Italian peninsula. Today there are countless varieties of Italian Cheeses.  Here are the primary types of Italian cheeses:

Asiago: Asiago Cheese is a hard cow's milk product made in the Veneto region of Italy available in two styles: Asiago d'Allevo --  a grainy, firm whole milk cheese that is sharp and nutty while Asiago Pressato, is a fresh, part-skim pasteurized milk Italian.

Burrata: First made in the early 1900s in the Murgia area of the Apulia region, Burrata is a distinctive cheese made by creating a sack of fresh Mozzarella, filling it with either cream or butter, then tying off the sack to keep the filling in place. The cream filled variety is called Burrata alla Panna, where the cream is enhanced with the addition of cut pieces of fresh Mozzarella. The butter filled type is called Burrata Burro. Once you cut open Burrata the luscious cream filling oozes out and Burrata must be consumed in one sitting. 

Caciocavallo: The name of this stretched, cured cheese stems from "horse head" in Latin. It’s an ancient cheese that has been referenced in texts as far back as 500 BC; it gained prominence in the 15th and 16th centuries in southern Italy. Similar in concept to an aged mozzarella, Caciocavallo's flavor and texture is akin to Provolone.

Fontina Sometimes called Fontina Val d'Asota or Fontina Valle d'Aosta, it’s a raw milk, medium bodied, slightly spicy, semi-soft cow's milk cheese from the Aosta Valley in the northwestern corner of Italy, just south of Switzerland in the Alpine region. Pale yellow in color with a natural orange-brown rind. 

Grana Padano: Developed nearly 1,000 years ago by Cistercian monks, Grana Padano is produced in the Po Valley areas of the Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Trentino and Emilia-Romagna regions. It’s a hard, raw cow's milk cheese with a robust, sweet flavor. Grana Padano is named for its grain-like crumbly texture as Grana comes from the word for "grainy" in Latin. Grana Padano is often compared to Parmigiano Reggiano. Both cheeses are made from the same recipe, however Grana Padano is aged up to 30 months which allows its flavor to become more complex and full-bodied. 

Gorgonzola: This famous Italian blue cheese harking back to the 9th century comes in two distinct varieties: Dolce (sweet and creamy) and Mountain (piquant and semi-soft). Both types are made from cow's milk in the Piedmont or Lombardy regions. Streaked with a specific blue-green mold called Penicillium Glaucum, Gorgonzola's is white to pale yellow in color. Mountain Gorgonzola's flavor falls somewhere between mild and sharp, whereas the Dolce variety is mellow and creamy. 

Mascarpone: Mascarpone is a soft, fresh, milky-white cheese originally made in the Lombardy region of northern Italy from cow's milk cream, without any cheese starter or rennet. Think of it as Italian cream cheese; best known as the celebrated ingredient in tiramisu. 

Cheap and Cheesy

By Chris Banker, Queso Diego Founder

There’s something wonderful about going into a high-end cheesemonger and having over a hundred cheese options available from around the world, with free samples to help you choose.  However, many of the cheeses they sell are the more expensive specialty varieties and the bill can quickly add up.  

I’m here to tell you that you don’t necessarily need to spend $30+ per pound on cheese.  You can obviously make your own, which many of us do, but sometimes you need something quick to share at a party.  Maybe you realize that you’re going over-budget on a cheese pairing and are considering cutting a course - look for a less expensive option instead.  This article describes some options to have great cheese for a little less cash.  

Go wholesale

Your options will be much more limited, but you can find some really good deals on select cheeses at CostCo if you have a membership.  You will have to buy blocks of a set size, usually 1-2 lbs, but the prices are really great.  Some of my favorites are the Beemster XO Aged Gouda, Cambozola Blue Label, and French Brie.  Other great finds include Manchego, Cabot Reserve 2 Year Cheddar, and Delice de Bourgogne.  They also have some really low-priced cheeses that are suitable for augmentation, which is discussed in the next section.  Selections vary seasonally and by location, so you can’t necessarily rely on the getting the same cheese every time.  Next time you’re stopping into CostCo for alcohol and toilet paper, make sure to check out the cheese aisle.  


Cheese Alchemy: Turning good cheese into great cheese

Two things you can do to turn mediocre budget cheese into something special are adding flavorings and smoking the cheese.  

Any soft cheese can easily have flavors incorporated with spices, herbs, vegetables, and fruits.  Try buying a big log of basic chevre at CostCo and dividing it into portions to add different flavors.  Herbs de Provence is a classic and a couple other favorites of mine are paprika and dill.  Truffle oil can be a nice addition, with or without other spices.  A great dessert cheese can be made with pureed dried figs and honey.  Fresh fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries can be great too, just don’t hold onto it too long.  See the October 2015 presentation notes on the Queso Diego website for more ideas.  

Cold-smoking cheese is another great way to turn ok cheese into something really special.  Simply cut the cheese into blocks and cold smoke for a few hours (under 80 degrees and away from heat source).  My favorite cheese to smoke is the CostCo gouda that runs less than $5 per pound.  I have also had success with swiss, and many cheeses will work well.  See the May 2014 presentation notes on the Queso Diego website for more details on smoking cheeses.  


Go To The (International) Market

International markets are a great source for budget-priced specialty ingredients and even cheese.  Many of the cultures represented by international markets are also cultures with a rich cheesemaking history.  You can even find some unique cheeses that you can’t buy elsewhere.  Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern markets tend to have large selections of unique cheeses.  Look for multiple types of fetas in the deli section as well as a wide variety of hard and soft cheeses in the refrigerated section.  Many will be made from sheep and goat milk.  Mexican markets also have great deals on Oaxacan, Cotija, and others.  There is even a Brazilian market to get some unique South American Cheeses and Pão de Queijo (tasty little Brazilian cheese bread balls).  

A few examples:

Middle Eastern: North Park Produce (multiple locations)

Mexican: Northgate Market (multiple locations)

Brazilian: Brazil By The Bay Market (Pt. Loma)

Information on some of these cheeses can be found in the February 2016 (Mediterranean), February 2014 (Mexican), and August 2013 (Brazilian) presentation notes on the Queso Diego website.  


Use Your Queso Diego Discount
Last but not least, you can still go to your favorite high-end cheesemongers to get those amazing cheeses with top-notch service and expertise, and save a bit with your Queso Diego member discount.  We have worked hard to secure discounts at all of the best local cheese shops, and have over 10 local businesses that provide our members (in good standing) with great discounts.  Bring your membership card and ask for the Queso Diego discount to save some significant money at these wonderful shops.  

Interview with a Cheesemonger - 

Jenny is the Cheesemonger at Smallgoods Cheese & Provisions, which you can find every Sunday from 9AM to 1PM at the La Jolla Open Aire Market!

How did you first get interested in cheese?
By attending after-work cheese pairing classes at Murray’s Cheese in New York City.  Honestly at first it was more about the wine pairings than the styles of cheese on offer.  My friends and I had no idea of the range of cheese out there.  But it didn’t take long before it drew me in.

Tell us about your history working with cheese
I began working with cheese at Murray’s.  I had come into the store to attend a class and noticed a handwritten sign looking for “Cave Interns”.  With NO idea what a cave was or what the position entailed – I HAD to have the job!  Murray’s was one of the first to use aging rooms to store their cheese.  And this is where my career started:  concrete floors, 45 degree temperatures and high humidity.  The hardest job I’d ever had and I loved every second of it!  When I was asked to work the retail counter, though reluctant to leave Affinage, I really loved mongering.  I had a great time introducing new people to cheese, working with the city’s best chefs, and of course the tasting.  Murray’s has about 300+ cheeses at any given time and it’s extraordinary place to learn.

What's your favorite cheese to eat?
Where to begin?!  I always have an aged gouda in the fridge – my favorite being Roomano, aged 3 years.   A current obsession is Shakerag Blue from Tennessee’s Sequatchie Cove Creamery. It’s wrapped in fig leaves soaked in Tennessee whiskey.   I really love aged sheep milk cheeses such as Paski Sir from Croatia.   And Miranda, an Absinthe washed rind cheese from Vulto Creamery in upstate NY.  Oh, and ANYTHING from Andante Dairy in Petaluma, too. I have a girl crush on Soyong Scanlon, the cheesemaker there. 

What are your favorite cheese pairings?
I like to keep it simple - some wine or beer, some nuts, maybe some honey or dried fruit.  I do like unusual pairings, though. I’m getting excited to attend a Sake and Cheese pairing class at the CA Artisan Cheese Fest in a few weeks.

What's your favorite food made with cheese?
This being San Diego with its Mexican specialties, I recently had a Grilled Cheese Taco from Aqui es Texcoco in Chula Vista.  They grill a layer of cheese, basically making a shell, and fill it with Huitlacoche.  Heavenly!  It’s earthy, slightly sweet and goes just beautifully with the crispy cheese outer layer!  HIGHLY recommended….

How did you find out about Queso Diego?
Most likely I was Googling various cheesey things, as I always do, and low and behold – there you guys were!  We love the group, we love the gatherings and always look forward to the monthly meet-ups.  (My husband looks forward to the beer!)

What do you do for work? 
I currently teach cheese education classes around San Diego; I work on my small business, Smallgoods Cheese & Provisions, and I study cheese!  I was recently accepted to sit the certification exam offered by the American Cheese Society at this years’ conference so i’m spending a lot of time on that.  Passing will make me a CCP – Certified Cheese Professional!

What made you decide to open Smallgoods?
The amazing artisanal cheese scene in America.  Our cheeses have such character and depth; we follow no rules.   All the respect in the world for our European brethren, but America holds its own for innovation and new creations.

What's your favorite thing about working with cheese? And the worst thing about working with cheese?
-  the process of transformation – from fluid milk to a solid product literally by those amazing molds, yeasts and cultures! 
- the love and respect cheese makers have for the animals who produce the milk; and the lengths dairy farmers go for the well being of their herds.  
- that everything you need for optimum health can come from cheese (except Vitamin C and Thiamine). Even amino acids that the body doesn’t make - like Tyronsine.  Everyone’s favorite crunchy crystal releases hormones that work on dopamine levels.  So its true - cheese does make you happy! 

Not Faves:
There’s no bad thing about cheese, but I do have a business frustration: being small, I can’t always afford the costs of shipping all the great artisan products that are all across the country.

What's in store for Smallgoods in the future?
We’ll continue to work hard at providing our customers with unique
cheese experiences from the best American small batch products we can find. We continually learn, source, talk and meet with makers all over the country.   We truly love what we do!  And I’d like to give a special shout out to my husband and business partner:  he’s always up for finding various farmsteads and creamery’s, meeting many a cow, sheep and goat (providing there’s a beer or two in it for him).  He is highly valued and was recently named Employee of the Month!  

Other than cheese, what are your other hobbies and interests?
Well, at the moment, its all about cheese!  Once I’m past the exam, I’ll enjoy getting back to the desert, photography and catching up on books.

Cheese Recipe of the Month

Ricotta is one of the easiest AND quickest cheeses you can make! Use this recipe to make Ricotta Gnocchi faster than you can boil water: Make Fresh Ricotta Gnocchi in Less Time Than it Takes to Cook Dried Pasta

Writers needed

A special thank you to Jeffree Itrich and Chris Banker for contributing to this month's newsletter!

We're looking for writers to contribute a one-time or monthly article to the new Queso Diego newsletter. If you would like to submit an article or idea for future articles, please send your suggestion to:

Thanks to our amazing Board of Officers:

Alyssa Humbert –

Vice President
Earl Itrich - 

Chuck West –

Don Rutherford

Membership Chair
Sandy McIsaac –

IT Chair
Chris Banker –

Curt Wittenberg -

To contact all of us with questions, concerns, suggestions, email us at:
Upcoming Events

March 5, 9:00AM
Learn to Raise Chickens and Ducks - Free
City Farmers Nursery
4832 Home Avenue
San Diego, CA 92105
No RSVP needed

March 5, 1:00PM - 4:00PM
Cheesemaking Fundamentals Class - $65
Curds and Wine
7194 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
RSVP here:

March 9, 3PM - 4:30PM
Cheesemaking Class - $65
Hotel del Coronado
1500 Orange Avenue
Coronado, CA 92118
RSVP here:

March 10, 1:00PM - 4:00PM
Cheesemaking Fundamentals Class - $65
Curds and Wine
7194 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
RSVP here:

March 12, 1:00PM - 4:00PM
Cheesemaking Fundamentals Class - $65
Curds and Wine
7194 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
RSVP here:

March 12, 9:00AM
Learn to Raise Goats - Free
City Farmers Nursery
4832 Home Ave.
San Diego, CA 92105
More info here:

March 15, 6:30PM
Queso Diego March Meeting - free
Bloomy Rind Cheeses
AleSmith Brewery
9990 AleSmith Court
San Diego, CA 92126
RSVP here:

March 17, 6:30PM - 8:00PM
Fermenters Club March Meeting - Free
White Labs Brewery & Tasting Room
9495 Candida Street
San Diego, CA 92126
RSVP here:

March 18, 6:00PM - 8:00PM
Kimchi Demo and Tasting
The BLVD Market
2855 El Cajon Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92116
More info here:

March 20, 11:00AM
San Diego Heirloom Seed Swap - Free
WorldBeat Cultural Center
2100 Park Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92101
More info here:

March 23, 6:00PM - 7:30PM
Italian Formaggio - $50
The Headquarters - Venissimo
789 West Harbor Blvd.
Buy tickets here:

March 26, 9:00AM
Beekeeping 101 - Free
City Farmers Nursery
4832 Home Ave.
San Diego, CA 92105
More info here:

March 26, 12:30PM - 1:30PM
Fermentation Workshop - $65
Center for a Healthy Lifestyle
533 Lomas Santa Fe Dr.
Solana Beach, CA 92075
RSVP here:

March 30, 6:00PM - 8:00PM
Whisky + Cheese - $60
Edgewater Grill
861 West Harbor Blvd
Buy tickets here:

April 4, 6:00PM - 7:30PM
Spanish Queso - $50
The Headquarters Venissimo
Buy tickets here:

April 9, 9:00AM
Learn to Make Soft Cheeses - $20
City Farmers Nursery
4832 Home Ave.
San Diego, CA 92105
RSVP: 619-284-6358

April 9, 1:00PM - 4:00PM
Cheesemaking Fundamentals Class - $65
Curds and Wine
7194 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
RSVP here:

April 10, 1:00PM - 3:00PM
Mozzarella and Ricotta class by Larry Stein - $25
Ascension Lutheran Church
5106 Zion Avenue
San Diego, CA 92120
Pay here and note "Mozzarella Class":

April 13, 6:00PM - 8:00PM
Opposite Attract: A Scientific Look at Wine and Cheese Pairings - $55
Vinavanti Urban Winery
1477 University Ave.
San Diego, CA 92103
Buy tickets here:

April 16, 1:00PM - 4:00PM
Cheesemaking Fundamentals Class - $65
Curds and Wine
7194 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
RSVP here:
Get 10% off your purchase with your Queso Diego membership

Brothers Provisions
16451 Bernardo Center Road. 
San Diego, CA 92127
Get 10% off your purchase with your Queso Diego membership
Custom orders available!

Bottles & Wood
5039 Shawline Street
San Diego, CA 92117
Get 10% off your purchase with your Queso Diego membership

Curds and Wine
7194 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. 
San Diego, CA 92111
Get 10% off your purchase with your Queso Diego membership

Locations throughout San Diego County
Get 10% off your purchase with your Queso Diego membership

The Cheese Store
1980 Kettner Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92101
Get 10% off your purchase with your Queso Diego membership

Smallgoods Cheese & Provisions
La Jolla Open Aire Market
7335 Girard Ave.
La Jolla, CA 92037
Get 10% off your purchase with your Queso Diego membership

The Ugly Dog
6344 El Cajon Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92115
Get 10% off your purchase with your Queso Diego membership (15% off food during happy hour)

Bice Ristorante
425 Island Ave. 
San Diego, CA 92101
Thank you to Peter Zien, the owner of AleSmith, and his amazing employees for generously letting us use their space for our meetings!
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