You hear the words “artisan” and “artisanal” thrown around a lot these days. Heck, it’s even on menu items at some fast food restaurants and pizza chains. But what do those words really mean? According to The New Food Lover’s Companion, artisanal food is “primarily handmade and produced in small batches by traditional, predominantly non-mechanical methods.” They go on to say that “superior fresh, natural and local ingredients and attention to detail and excellence are all part of the artisan tradition.” Thankfully, the true artisan traditional is alive and well in America, and nowhere more so than with our nation’s fine cheese makers. While we here at Whole Foods Market® love good cheeses from all over the world, we’re especially proud of the local cheese makers in our own backyards. Artisan cheese makers support traditional jobs, healthy farming practices, and the noble art of making something carefully, beautifully, and skillfully. October is American Cheese Month, and now is the perfect time to gear up and start learning more about the phenomenal artisan cheeses produced here in the US.
If you’ve ever walked into our cheese department (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?), you know we have a better selection of American artisanal and organic cheeses than any other national grocery chain. Bonus: the American Cheese Society picked their 2012 conference winners in August, so be on the lookout for signs in our cheese departments celebrating these great American cheeses. Like all the other food in our stores, the cheese we sell does not contain artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
Recently, 70 of our cheesemongers passed the first-ever American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional™ exam. That makes us the retailer with the largest number of certified cheese experts in North America! So don’t be shy, ask them to point out their local favorites and ask for a taste. Our cheesemongers are passionate and knowledgeable about cheese and love to share. And they’ll be happy to cut any cheese to order, so you get just the amount you want or just the price you want.
But, what really sets us apart is the fact that our cheese buyers have close partnerships with cheese makers and personally visit artisanal cheese makers across the US. In fact, if you’re interested in keeping up with her cheese travels and musings follow our Global Cheese Buyer, Cathy Strange, on Twitter @WFMCheese. We also share lots of cheese notes and recipes on Facebook at Whole Foods Market Cheese Deparment.
With thousands of American artisan cheeses out there, finding your favorite is really all a matter of personal taste. Do you love a bloomy rind? A creamy soft-ripened center? Crumbly, tangy blues? How about white-as-snow Chevre laced with herbs? Or a pungent brine-washed beauty? We’ve come up with some recipes that feature a few of our favorite American artisan cheeses:
· Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog (celebrating 20 years!)
· Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam (meet the cheese makers)
· Rogue Creamery’s Rogue River Blue (meet the cheese makers)
Stop by our cheese counter to start your great American cheese journey! You’ll see what the word artisan really means.
What’s your favorite American artisan cheese? Let us know in the comments below.