March 3, 2002 - Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School teacher Nancy Halderman reached out for a slice of creamy white milk cheese. "Ummm, this is good," she said. Next to her, Realtor April Newland scanned the selection of goat's milk cheeses arrayed on the deli counter. "I'll try that one next," she said, pointing.
The women were among the many enthusiasts taking in the weekly complimentary Tuesday evening wine and cheese tasting at the Gourmet Gallery shop in Havensight Mall.
A month ago, the food shop began hosting the tastings, which begin at 6 p.m., as a way to educate customers about less-familiar foods. "Cheese is something people are curious about, something they have an open mind about," event planner Bill Hyde said. "Customers have enjoyed tasting and learning about the different kinds of cheeses, types within a family, texture and quality differences."
Tastings have focused on cheddar and Swiss variations and, most recently, goat's milk varieties. Hyde arranges the displays with Roland Jarvis and Triston Baker, students from Charlotte Amalie and Ivanna Eudora Kean High Schools, respectively. The youths, who work part-time at the store, both are keen on careers in the culinary industry. They set out the cheeses an hour ahead of the event to allow them to warm to room temperature so the flavors can better be appreciated.
The 20-plus goat's milk cheeses were an exotic assortment. There were cut wheels of pale yellow hard cheese, tiny towers of creamy white cheese studded with raisins, circular varieties covered in green herbs and wrapped in chestnut leaves, and triangles and rectangles encased in dark ash and gray mold.
"The 'brain' is best," Newland decided, after tasting a cheese whose outside was covered with rivulets of gray mold that resembled a brain.
Domestic cheeses such as Cypress Grove Chevre were easy to pronounce, but imported European varieties such as the "brain" -- actually called Coeur du Berry -- didn't roll as easily off the tongue.
Since the tastings are held right at the deli case, "If someone is interested in something other than what we're tasting, I can get it and offer it to him or her," Hyde says.
To go with the goat cheese, there were Rosemont Australian red and white wines.
Cheeses and wines aren't purposely paired, and part of the adventure lies in finding out what complements what. For example, tasters pronounced one particular goat cheese somewhat ordinary by itself, and said the same for a certain wine, but the two together made for a "wow" of a whole new taste experience.
Accompanying the cheeses and wines on this particular Tuesday were spicy chicken wings and a hot cheesy pasta and veggie dip prepared by chef Scott Southworth. Sure enough, a conversation was soon going about cooking with goat's milk cheeses in addition to just enjoying them on crackers or with bread.
Hyde said, "Some people feel timid to ask about products they're unsure of, but in a tasting like this, everyone can sample. And, sampling is the conversation starter. We don't give a lecture. It's informal. We let people taste, and their questions guide what we say about the products."
Halderman said the whole experience was "great," adding, I would never have thought to ask about these cheeses or have known the differences between them if I hadn't come in tonight."
Hyde says the weekly tastings will continue indefinitely. "We have over 150 varieties of specialty cheeses, and there are hundreds in the world, so we won't lack for themes," he said.