Photo credit: William Burgess
Jessica @cheesegrotto is an innovative cheese lover who is pushing the envelope of good cheese. Her beautiful wooden storage boxes, set to hit the market this year, are designed to preserve the life of a cheese while allowing for its natural aging process. And her Cheese Caramels (yes, that’s right) are out of this world.
In a few sentences, tell us about your business.
Cheese Grotto is a lifetime storage solution for naturally made cheeses. The product, slated to hit the market in the coming year, is complete with humidity, air flow, and temperature controls to keep your cheese fresher for longer. Like fine wine, cheese wedges and wheels become more complex with age, and the Cheese Grotto protects its integrity. While the product is in development I spend my time teaching the world of natural cheese, and throwing seasonal cheese events that are both educational and fun.
Favorite cheese pairing?
Cheese and chocolate is amazing. Also, nut brown ales and cheeses of all types are a winning combo. My favorite nut combination is the hazelnut—it has a natural richness and sweetness and isn’t too tannic for pairing.
Do you have a favorite food trick?
When I make cheese at home, such as ricotta, I save and freeze the whey for broth. It is amazing for braising and enriching a vegetarian lemongrass coconut curry. It’s lightly buttery and tangy and chock-full of minerals and proteins. It’s also great as a baking substitute for milk. You can learn more about this on my blog.
The storage boxes are beautiful. Besides their looks, why should I buy one?
The Cheese Grottoes are made of bamboo, glass, and clay, and use the benefits of these natural materials to promote even and healthy ripening of cheese. Compared to the other methods of storage available (plastic wrap, tupperware, and cheese paper) the Cheese Grotto extends the shelf life by three to four times.
How do you define good food?
Good food is defined by its process. This process can be from the farm to the table and everything in between. I often think of good food as a meditation: in the home kitchen, in commercial kitchens, and with the land. It is based off of values and relationships. In this way, good food is a great tool for promoting democratic processes in the agricultural, organizational, and social spheres. Take cheese, for example. I am a supporter of naturally made cheese because it considers the land, the working dairy animals, and the quality of the milk.
Food issues have not quite made it into the Presidential campaigns. If you could ask the future President to consider a food issue that needs to be addressed, what would it be?
What concerns me the most is farm workers’ rights and agricultural practices. Limited water resources are a present day reality in California. We have to change our practices and not let a few large food corporations and buyers determine the method and quality of our farming. They control the whole industry and subject farm workers and owners to endless cycles of debt and dependence. The framework that exists does not take into consideration resource depletion.
What’s one of your first (and most memorable) interactions with food?
I would say that my deep love of food and all of its processes came later in life, as therapy and as relationship building. When I started working at Cowgirl Creamery in the San Francisco Ferry Building at the age of 19, I tasted many cheeses that transformed and blossomed my palate, leading me to an appreciation of the subtle differences between one handmade batch of cheese to another. I was also submerged in an amazing hub of food makers and shakers with whom I could share my discoveries.
Tell us about something you’re working on right now.
American Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day is coming up on April 16th, and I will be throwing a large party at 61 Local in Brooklyn. We’ll be featuring a selection of Raw Milk Cheeses from Anne Saxelby that we’ll pair with seasonal fare and regional wine/beer. It should be a fun party!
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Who is your food inspiration?
So many people! From a Trinidadian private chef I met when I was 19 in New York, to Julia Child, Ruth Reichl, Amanda Hesser, to a dear friend Kara Chadbourne who sees food as a way of living.
What is your go-to dinner party dish?
A Moroccan tagine with preserved lemon, or a salad of beets, oranges, pomegranates, and mint. But because I’m a cheese lady, anytime I can get a wheel of gooey cheese, like Vacherin Mont D’Or or Rush Creek Reserve, I roast a bunch of fingerling potatoes, brussels, and veggies, and get to dunking. Add a crusty loaf of wood fired oven bread, and it’s heaven on earth.
What was your biggest #foodfail?
My biggest #foodfail was a persimmon tart. This was before I knew how to pick persimmons that wouldn’t be cloying and drying in the mouth. (If you have tasted an underripe persimmon, you know what I mean.) I tried to cook the tart anyway, and it really wasn’t edible.
March is National Nutrition Month. What’s one good-food aspect of your diet that packs some nutritious punch?
Whatever you eat, add vegetables. When I eat cheese, I eat vegetables, too.
What’s your favorite meal-on-the-go?
A blend of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. I try to make a habit of giving myself time to sit down to a meal, even if it’s just 15 minutes. If I’m really running around, I might get a sushi box to go at Citarella, or something at the buffet at Whole Foods.
Your good food wish?
I wish good, naturally made food could become a staple for everyone. This is a never ending wish, I know.
What have you been dying to make recipe-wise, but haven’t yet?
Chocolate Whiskey Cake with Salted Caramel Buttercream.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
I love writing. So, if I stayed in the city I’d most likely get involved with the digital editing world. My pipe dream in 10 years is to become an artisan cheese maker and have my own plot of land.
What’s always in your fridge?
Butter, kale, broccoli, eggs and cheese of course.
What are your favorite three cheeses right now?
I have Gruyere AOP (the protected, authentic one) on the mind right now, since I’ve been working with it for my Cheese Caramels. (Did you know it has been made for over 900 years?) Pecorino Riserva del Fondatore is a great hard cheese to have around. And Italian Robiolas, wrapped in cabbage or fig leaves.
What’s your favorite part about being in the food industry?
Hands down the relationships and the interconnected community. That is really what sold me on the food industry since day one.
Tell us about your cheese caramels. And where can we find them?
They started out as an experiment to bring out the candy qualities in cheese, and now they are becoming a micro-local cheese sensation. I make them by melting Gruyere cheese in cream and butter, and then folding this cheese sauce into caramelizing sugar. Once formed, we sprinkle the caramel with flake salt. You can learn more on my website. Right now they are only available through larger quantity special orders through email request to firstname.lastname@example.org. But they will be available in the coming months as a whole new line of product!
Please tell us about your workshops.
My cheese making and tasting workshops act as a great platform to learn more about the process and experience of natural cheese. I offer everything from small home gatherings to corporate events, with the intention for people to collaborate in making memorable food experiences.
Do you have a favorite recipe with cheese?
Beet, Berry and Goat Cheese Popsicles