A Vegetarian's Guide to the Cheese Shop // Part I

Vegetarian's Guide Meet Eliza, our cheese shops' resident vegetarian! She'll be showing you around the shop from an herbivore's point of view. This is the first in a multi-part series.

We’ve entered a new era of ethical eating here in Minneapolis. From Wise Acre’s locally-sourced produce, poultry, and meat to our friends at Red Table Meat Co. in Northeast Minneapolis, the Artisanal Meat Renaissance is upon us. Heck, we just opened a brand new nose-to-tail butcher shop in St. Paul! And while I am totally down with these conscientious consumption practices, I find my once thriving cohort of vegetarians quickly dwindling. So this blog post is for you, my fellow vegetable lovers. This is your Vegetarian’s Guide to the Cheese Shop.

As the sole vegetarian among a staff of carnivorous cheesemongers, I’ve come to learn a few tricks about eating at the France 44-St. Paul Cheese Shops. Though it may seem like we have many meat-filled treats, there is always a vegetarian-sized loophole.

1. Vegetarian Surprise With the recent renovation of our sandwich menu, you might have noticed that your go-to veggie sandwiches are now missing. Before you mourn their loss, recognize that this is an opportunity for you to get something totally crazy and new. Order a veggie surprise! From our sweet and spicy pepper onion relish to harissa to garlic pickles, there are lots of ingredients that you’ve probably never had before. Find new frontiers! Explore your palette! Order that veggie surprise!

2. You’re Not That Into Surprises? Well, the vegetarian sandwiches you loved (and a few new ones) are still available on the Unofficial Secret Vegetarian Menu. All you have to do is ask.

Classic Mozz Veg: Oozing with tomato-garlic confit goodness paired perfectly with some refreshing mozzarella and topped off with crunchy greens. I bet you miss this guy, but you know what? He’s still there. Our sandwich line is stocked with the ingredients, so you can order it anytime. Substitute the mozzarella with chèvre or brie depending on your mood.

RGC: This delicious sandwich is spread with creamy house-made roasted garlic chèvre (a.k.a. RGC), dusted with smoky paprika and banyuls, enhanced with caramelized onions, and completed with greens. YUM.

Pear Brie: Yep, I just coined a new sandwich. It's a combination of double-cream Fromage D’Affinois with lots of sweet and savory house-made pear mostarda, a drizzle of honey, and some greens. This is one of my favorite go-to sandwiches and it never disappoints. Try it on a baguette if you feel like getting fancy. [pictured at top]

3. Salad! A little known cheese shop fact--we make lots of awesome salads. Let us put our creative forces to good work and whip up something new and exciting for you! Just order a surprise salad, we’ll know what you mean.

4. The Untapped Land of the Deli Case It’s summertime and that means the deli case at our Minneapolis shop is bursting with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s the best season to be a vegetarian! Now is your chance to capitalize. Check out a few of my favorite items:

Polenta Cakes: These crisped, corn-based cakes are perfect warmed and topped with your favorite cheese, Mexican mole, or salsa. Garnish with cilantro if you’re really feeling fresh.

Snap Pea and Ginger Slaw: Refreshing AND beautiful. Enjoy it as a snack, down it is as a palette cleanser, eat it as a meal. Just make sure you eat it.

Strawberry Kale Salad: Strawberries, cashews, roasted red peppers, hearty kale massaged by hand. Does it get any better?

Song’s Pasta Salad: Tomatoes + Feta + Orzo Pasta + Dill X A hint of olive oil = One perfect summer pasta salad

Okay, have I convinced you yet? The cheese shop is practically a vegetarian’s mecca! Don’t let the meaty facade fool you. There is so much to enjoy. I haven’t even mentioned the bounty of delicious grocery items (hellooooo INNA Jam) or the sweet treats or that refreshing gazpacho. Stay tuned for future blogs posts from your favorite (and only) vegetarian cheesemonger.

--Eliza Summerlin

Holla For Challerhocker

Challerhocker Columbia Cheese--a super cool cheese importer--wrote a lovely missive on Charllerhocker, one of our favorite cheeses from Switzerland:

I first met Walter Rass in May of 2012 at his dairy in Tufertschwil, Switzerland. I was immediately struck by the remarkable hybridity of the operation- here was this master cheesemaker, 25 years at his own family dairy, producing a unicorn he called Challerhocker, a cheese built for the modern cheesemonger; alongside, on alternating days, he was still making an exceptional Appenzeller for the mass market.

Both cheeses were studies in precision, every wheel seemed perfect and consistent and photo-ready. That day I even met his Appenzeller dealer- the man responsible for grading his every batch of Appenzeller cheese- and they let me join them bending plugs and sniffing rinds. He was effusive in his praise, pointing to Walter’s vaunted status in Appenzeller circles- the best of the best. Yet, here he was very publicly steering his ship toward a cheese of his own design, one that would harness the precision and economy of Appenzeller production but also reach back through time to reintroduce true craft into creation.

Within the bright white walls of the sparkling dairy upon which Walter rebuilt his family home years ago, he was infusing Challerhocker with the spirit of his home and his village- the cultures were now embedded in yogurt his wife Annelies would make in weekly batches. The rennet arrived not in freeze-dried packets or tan vials but as whole calves stomachs, dried and ready to be cut slowly into strips and steeped in this same family brew. To drive the point home the rough, hand drawn label read “Walter and Annelise Rass, Tufertschwil Switzerland”.

Challerhocker became even more deeply rooted in our and our customers unconscious minds. The next year found Challerhocker production surpassing Appenzeller. Finally by June of 2014, we arrived at the dairy to the news that Challerhocker was now the only way forward- Walter had officially ceased production of Appenzeller.

This didn’t just mean that we would have enough cheese to fill orders through December for the first time ever. It meant Walter had turned a corner, and that we- and by “we” I mean Columbia Cheese and our retail partners throughout the US- were now written into the story. The cheese was coming and it was up to us to help it find a home, to share what we loved and give it shape to the folks wandering into our shops each and every day.

As a part of this process, I traveled again last week to see Walter and Annelies and to attempt an objective documentation of the cheeses, the process, the milk supply, the cultures, etc. Frankly, I was trying to get to the essence of the ephemeral. It proved to be a challenging assignment. What I was hoping to share was the precision by which Walter transforms his traditional raw materials (fresh, small-herd milk/ house produced cultures/ house made rennet/ simple brine) into a now familiar and remarkably consistent “product” by way of modern mechanics (a hose to transport curd from vat to the typical contemporary press) and historic craftsmanship.

The difficulty was in finding where recipe and development and daily craftsmanship intersected. Walter’s every movement seems designed for a specific, minute task and frankly it was difficult to keep up with him (as the blurry photo of the pouring of culture into the vat attests). The ongoing and immediate adjustments were impossible to capture. And in spite of some obvious consistencies and efficiencies procured from years of success, the essential nature of the production remains enigmatic. Why does he skim the fat from culture with a gentle blowing of air across its surface? How does he know exactly how many cheeses he can wash in the cellar before returning to a properly prepared cut curd? He couldn’t answer these questions, either.

As the morning wound down, I found myself watching Walter as he collected every single rice-grain-sized curd in the draining table, as he has every day for 25 years. It was a stark reminder that these cheeses were historically instruments of an essential agricultural economy. It is only through innovation, superior craftsmanship, and the everyday work of the dedicated cheesemonger that they have become objects of desire, lifted out of the commodity market and given a place at the center of our culinary lives.

Yours in cheese, Jonathan

Walter Rass mixing house-made starter / Calf rennet (a whole stomach!) / Challerhocker and other Alpine cheeses

Re-posted with permission from Columbia Cheese columbia cheese