Antonelli's Cheese Shop has been an Austin staple for seven years, and for good reason. The shop, a true labor of love, works hard to not only source local ingredients and give artisans a respected platform for their products, but to make cheese accessible and friendly to the masses. Cheese is far from snooty, and learning about it shouldn't be either.
To that end, Antonelli's holds informational tasting classes across the street from the original Cheese Shop. These classes range from Cheese 101 to Cheese and Beer Pairings to Raw Milk Cheese Class. Recently I attended Cheese 101: The Seven Styles of Cheese at The Cheese House, a beautiful Hyde Park shop that was formerly a doll house shop, a cabinet shop, and is finally, now, a cheese house.
The class, the recommended first course to take on cheese, is about an hour and a half long in a cozy, intimate setting. My boyfriend (Scott - he regularly shows up in these reviews) and I were seated at one of the rustic high-top tables with two other couples we didn't know, but got to know because I mean, who can't crack a few jokes over cheese? Also, shout-out to Andrea -- she's a Cheesemonger-in-Training at Antonelli's, which was a fun twist of fate for our first class.
You can bring your own refreshments for a small corking fee, or you can run over to the Cheese Shop before the class begins to pick up the options they personally choose for the course.
We opted to let Antonelli's decide for us, and thank goodness we did. Both the red wine and the beer suggested were phenomenal with the cheeses -- much better than something I might have grabbed from my refrigerator.
The course, hosted by Casie and Isabel, began with a brief history of Antonelli's and what makes it so special. No introduction is really needed, however, because the care taken in everything from the accompaniments (um, the best olives and most flavorful almonds you'll probably ever eat in your life) to the cozy seating speaks for itself.
The bread is provided for the class courtesy of Easy Tiger, a favorite here at Wide Open Eats. Then the cheese plate came out. It would be a lie to say that I didn't want to greedily eat every single morsel as soon as it hit the table, but I (and Scott) waited patiently because when will you ever eat cheese and learn about it at the same time again?
Starting with the goat cheese topped with jam, the review moves clockwise around the plate.
The first cheese we tasted was the Plain Chevre from Pure Luck Dairy (topped with blueberry jam in the photo above), a family farm built from the ground up in Dripping Springs. This is the one of the most award-winning Texas cheeses out there, and it was so fresh. We learned it was about 10 days from the goat itself -- y'all, this is one benefit of shopping your local farms.
The Chevre was topped with a Blueberry Lemon Jam from Robert Lambert and was so delicious I wanted to bathe it. But that's for another story on just how deep my love of fresh jams runs.
Next was the Le Pommier Camembert, a pasteurized cow's milk cheese with a bloomy rind from Normandy, France topped with a savory jam. It's a cheese that's made as authentically as possible in the Norman cheese-making tradition. This would taste delicious baked with a a caramelized onion jam on top, just like the jam it was served with.
Following the Camembert was the Quadrello di Bufala, a water buffalo milk cheese from Italy. Casie told us a fantastic story about exactly what it takes to milk a water buffalo and while I definitely would not try it, I'm grateful someone did because this was my second favorite cheese of the tasting. The saltwater-washed rind was earthy and the cheese itself was slightly sweet. Yum.
The fourth cheese on the plate was the Chandoka from LaClare Farms in Malone, Wisconsin, the first of the evening. The Chandoka is a firm goat and cow milk cheese that has more cheddar-like notes than the previous cheeses. I thought this cheese paired the best with the suggested red wine from Antonelli's.
The next cheese was also a LaClare Farms classic, the Evalon. Their award-winning cheese, this goat milk cheese was a semi-soft triangle of deliciousness and it tasted similar to a provolone cheese as well as a Gouda. It was topped with a pickled green bean, such an unexpected, yet delicious pairing.
The Goat Gouda was next from Central Coast Creamery in California, and is aged on pine wood for at least five months. It's a firmer cheese that had a nice texture, with little protein crystals inside (okay, I really call them flavor sparkles -- you know, like in Parmesan). The nutty flavor paired well with Scott's beer, and I definitely stole a few sips.
Last, but certainly not least, was the Bohemian Blue from Hidden Springs Creamery of Wisconsin. This blue cheese was tangy, and the perfect blue cheese to include on this plate. Both Scott and I are blue cheese fans, so we were totally ready for a dry and crumbly blue that was just taunting Scott while he tasted the other cheeses.
An unexpected, yet amazing, pairing was the caramel drizzled over the blue cheese in its presentation, and completely opened my eyes to a whole new way to enjoy cheese. As Casie joked, the best way to tackle something unfamiliar is to top it with a spoonful of sugar. And she was right one thousand times over.
As a cheese lover who'd rather sit down with a cheese plate for dinner every night as opposed to a full chicken dinner, this was heaven for me. The class is friendly and warm, and the atmosphere is always kind and fun, never stuffy.
It's a space where you can learn as much as you want, or you can simply take it all in. Antonelli's and its staff are excited about cheese, and it shows in the care they take with the pairings to the stories they tell about the artisans who crafted the cheese you're eating at that moment.
I completely recommend going to a cheese class, whether it's at Antonelli's if you live in Texas, or to your local cheese shop if you're out of state because it really focuses on the craftsmanship of an art.
I learned so much about the agriculture around Texas and the rest of the country in this class, and in the end, walked away with three cheeses that Scott and I could not live without.
So what were our favorites? The Plain Chevre from Pure Lucky Dairy, the Quadrello di Bufala from Quattro Portini, and the Bohemian Blue of Hidden Springs Creamery. We also took home the Blueberry Lemon Jam and the Pickled Green Beans.
Attend your own Cheese Class by checking out Antonelli's schedule here. You'll be glad you tried something new. I know I was!
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