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Cheese of the Month Club that Helps an Amazing Cause

April 25th, 2012 · No Comments · Birth Defects

Since around the time the movie “Sideways” came out in 2004, it seems that wine tasting has been all the rage. The “cool” thing to do is to build yourself a wine cellar, buy a couple bottles of expensive wine, and show off your knowledge of the subtleties of a pinot vs. a merlot (or whatever).

Funny thing is, while everyone has been paying so much attention to the wine, cheese has almost become a second banana. People enjoy and pontificate their fine wines, and then obligingly pop in the cheddar or Monterey Jack cubes that are sitting next to the wine on crackers.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that cheese tasting can be just as amazing as wine tasting. In fact, while it sounds like sacrilege, the cheese world is arguably a lot more complex and fascinating than the wine world. With wine, you choose from red, rose, white, sparkling, and fortified wines and can enjoy the subtleties across the flavors of different grape varieties in different years. With cheese, you can enjoy different textures, colors, shapes, aromas, consistencies, and exquisite flavors across a variety of animals, from goat to cow to sheep, and a variety of countries around the world.

Of course, I’m not here to pit one world again the other. But if you consider yourself a wine aficionado, take a look at cheese. Both the wine world and the cheese world have artisans who are literally artists–using the palette of nature to craft amazing varieties for us to enjoy.

By far, the finest artisanal cheese company I know of is Artisinal Premium Cheese at Specifically, they have a monthly cheese club called the Artisanal Premium Cheese Club where they will send you, either by hand delivery or by FedEx, a unique and different selection of cheeses each month. Whether you have friends over informally from time to time, or you host formal parties, these cheeses will make your gathering one to remember for a long time. While other people are serving crackers with Cheese Whiz and Velveeta, you can be serving your guests varieties from around the world.

I’d known about them before, but Artisanal recently reached out to me a few weeks ago and told me something I wasn’t aware of that is amazing. For everyone who joins the Artisanal Premium Cheese Club, Artisanal will provide a generous donation to SmileTrain.

SmileTrain is an amazing organization that helps children who are born with a cleft lip and/or palate–a condition where a child’s face around their nose and lips aren’t completely formed when they come out of the womb. While the image of these infants and children can be off-putting to people who are not used to seeing them, the first thing to remember about these kids is that they’re just normal kids whose hearts are innocent and who want to be able to laugh, cry, love, and grow just like any other kids. The condition is much more common than more people thing: this year, over 165,000 children will be born with this condition. Just a few years ago, a co-worker of mine had a daughter with a cleft lip which was when I first heard about it (happily, her daughter had surgery which went well and today she’s a happy and healthy child).

But sadly, in some parts of the world the medical infrastructure doesn’t exist to do the fairly basic surgery to repair clefts when kids are still infants. These children grow up to be shunned by society and in many cases are unable to breathe, eat, or speak normally. In some cases, they are abandoned or even killed. This is all the more a tragedy when you think that a surgery only costs about $250, the difference between a child living a happy and ordinary life and one filled with sorrow and condemnation that is not their fault.

The New York Times has called SmileTrain “One of the most productive charities–dollar for deed–in the world”. They don’t have a big staff, but they have big, big hearts. Visit their Web site and view the smiles of the children they’ve helped and consider a donation. It gives the phrase “say cheese” a whole new meaning.

Of course, another way you can help is to join the Artisanal Cheese of the Month Club. I was fortunate enough to receive a sample for March 2012 that illustrates what you’d be getting every month. Here’s what you can expect for the ridiculously low price of $55 a month (at the end of the year, $250 of your purchase will go to SmileTrain, allowing them to pay for one child’s complete surgery).

The cheese I received arrived via FedEx via overnight delivery. The cheese arrived in a climate-controlled box.

premium cheese club packaging

The first thing I noticed is how much pride this company takes in its product. Included in the box were very nice letters from SmileTrain and Artisanal Cheese, as well as detailed tasting notes that explain in amazing detail everything you need to know about that month’s cheese. In this particular month’s delivery were cheeses from Italy, Spain, France, and the Netherlands, made from goat milk, sheep’s milk, and cow’s milk, and spanning a variety of flavors.

Also included was a fascinating chart called the CheeseClock, which is an ingenious way that can make anyone (even me and you) into a cheese tasting expert immediately. They tell you how to arrange cheese on a plate from the mildest flavors to the boldest flavors. There are even little cardboard markers that you can put in the cheese that tells your guests the name of the cheese and whether it’s cow, sheep, or goat cheese.

best cheese club

So, we got the cheese tasting started. It just happened that the day after I received the cheese Lisa and I had our good friends Ken and Satoko over (the latter who is a bit of a cheese connoisseur herself already).

The first cheese was a mild cheese called Formaggio Capra, a goat cheese from Italy.

formaggio capra goat cheese

We followed the instructions of the “cheese clock”, which told us to start with the mildest cheese and work our way up to bolder tastes. This one was the mildest. It had an almost creamy consistency and was flaky when you cut into it. The taste was mild and slightly buttery. Overall, a very approachable cheese–everyone loved it, as I could tell as the “mmmmm”s filled the room.

Next up was a medium cheese called Royale, a pressed sheep milk cheese from northwest Spain.

royale sheep cheese from spain

This was a harder cheese that put me in the mind of a parmagiano reggiano, only a little softer. It had a sharper taste than the first cheese and had a touch of a salty, nutty flavor.

The third cheese was a firm, washed-ring cow’s milk cheese made in the Alsace region of France, called Tomme Fermier D’Alsace:

Tomme Fermier D'Alsace cow mile from France

Here, we were getting into the stronger flavors. This cheese had a more waxy consistency. It was creamy with an almost gummy, buttery texture (sorry, I don’t know the fancy cheese-expert words :P). The taste here was phenomenal. It’s hard to describe, but as you chewed the cheese, it had a hint of fruitiness, with a burst of flavor that came after you finished chewing. Turns out this is a “washed rind” cheese, which we learned meant that it was cheese washed with wine. Overall, another spectacular and unique experience.

Finally, the strongest cheese was the Gouda, a cow’s milk cheese aged 4 years from the Netherlands.

gouda cheese aged 4 years from netherlands

This was a hard cheese which was also amazing. A beautiful deep caramel in color, it had a strong and lingering flavor with complex tastes including a hint of butterscotch.

The one thing that struck me about all these cheeses was that they all had vastly different “personalities”, from their looks to their textures to their taste. And by following the “cheese clock” the overall experience was amazing.

Overall, our little cheese tasting party was a ton of fun and to boot, it expanded our horizons by introducing us to delicious cheese from around the world we would never otherwise have tried. Each had a unique history and personality of its own. Unlike with wine tastings, we had all our facilities with us after the tasting, and we could really appreciate the subtleties of each of the cheeses, from the surprising hint of butterscotch in the Gouda to the subtle tones of mushrooms, grass, and butter in the Tomme Fermier d’Alsace. The fact that there were so many cheese from around the world made it all the more amazing–it was like travelling the world right in our own living room!

Sure, everyone and his brother can say he’s a wine expert. But you can be the star of every one of your home and office gatherings, both formal and informal, with these amazing cheeses. And the fact that you’ll be changing a child’s life will make you smile as well!


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