I recently reviewed the book ” It’s Not You, It’s Brie” by Kirstin Jackson. This was just released this past November. To read my full review of the book, click here: It’s Not You, It’s Brie Book Review Kirstin has a bubbly personality and a great passion for cheese. She also has a popular blog by the same name as her book. Click here to check out the blog, It’s Not You, It’s Brie .
Vickie: Here at Make Life Special, we believe that great ingredients can really transform a dish. In your book, you describe over 50 artisan cheeses. How do using these artisan cheeses rather than mass produced cheeses transform a dish?
Kirstin: Well, I think that when you are using a mass produced cheese or something that is not made by hand, you need to use more of the cheese – or dress it up a bit. So when you are using artisan cheeses, that are made in a smaller production, they taste really really delicious on their own and you don’t really need to do much with the cheese to make it taste good. These are cheeses that can stand alone on a plate –on a dessert plate, on a cheese plate…and essentially can just be paired with bread or nothing at all . When you use mass produced cheese, you need to do things with them to make them taste better. Cooking them or melting them or serving them with a lot of preserves or jams. Artisan cheese can just be served as is or used in limited amounts as a flavoring. The flavors in artisan cheese are more refined and they pop a lot more.
Vickie: I know…Bruce and I took a trip to Vermont about two years ago and absolutely fell in love with the cheeses. We were given information on how to order the cheeses . Do you give any information in your book about how to order some of the special cheeses that you feature?
Kirstin: No, I don’t give any information about how to order them. I do discuss how available they are nationally. I do list several cheese shops in my book and a lot of places will be able to mail order and ship cheese directly to you. A fair amount of the cheeses I talk about in the book are available by mail order. Most cheese shops will work with you on that. Do you have a cheese shop?
Vickie: I would have to order online…or go to St Louis. I’m about 45 minutes outside of St Louis and they do have some excellent cheese shops there.
Kirstin: I’m a big fan of the artisanal websites too. Or, just contact the cheese maker directly. The cheese maker can often tell you where it might be in your area. People are shipping more these days and that might be the more convenient way to get these cheeses. Farmer’s Markets are also a great way to find artisanal cheeses that are local to your area that you can just pick up and enjoy.
Vickie: I’m just curious…How long have you had this passion for cheese?
Kirstin: I’ve had a passion for cheese for quite a long time. When I was younger, my parents lived in Northern California and we would go cheese tasting. This was when I was a teenager. I was also a vegetarian as a child and my mother worried about me not getting enough protein so cheese was a way to get that for me and I ate a lot of cheese. I grew up with a lot of different types of cheeses. We would have that block of cheddar that most people keep in their frig but we would also have a couple of goat cheeses and other cheeses from where we would visit. So cheese has always been in my life. Then I went on to work in cheese shops and in restaurants where I helped put together the cheese plates and it just kept on going from there.
Vickie: When I think about cheese, I can immediately come up with three that I absolutely love. What are your top favorites? I know that has to be hard for you with as many different cheeses that you have tasted!
Kirstin: It’s REALLY REALLY hard! I can’t limit it down to my favorites….but I can tell you three domestic cheeses that I really love. One would be Avalanche Goats Milk Cheddar. It’s from Colorado and it’s a cheddar that’s made in the traditional style that takes on these really great flavors. It has a lemon zest and caramel flavor. It’s really beautiful!
Another one that I’m a big fan of is the Saquachie Cove Dancing Fern from Tennessee. It’s a little bit harder to find but it’s delicious.
And then another one that’s a little bit easier to find is Laura Chenel Melodie. That’s a goats milk cheese that is soft and creamy.
Vickie: I had no idea there were so many cheese makers in America! How did you select the ones for your book?
Kirstin: I’ve been working in cheese for a while and eating a lot of cheese. I wanted to feature categories of cheeses in my book and familiarize people with what cheese makers are doing domestically. I talk about the major styles that are available. So I started there and I have 16 categories. I worked within those categories and I wanted to have at least three examples in each category. I also wanted to show the diversity within each category. Sometimes I asked my friends who are in the cheese business for advice as well. I tried to represent different styes from across the country. It came down to tasting a lot!
Vickie: I like how you give pairing suggestions in your book….and also recipes. The Gouda Almond Toffee in particular struck my eye. How did you come up with such easy and tasty recipes?
Kirstin: I went to Culinary School and I have cooked in restaurants for several years and I’ve always had a passion for cooking. I cook at home an amazing amount. I also go out and eat and I really like to think about new ways people can approached cheese. I like to be inspired by the cheeses flavors and then also what is seasonal. I taste the cheese and I see what’s going on with the flavors …..I also think people can use cheese by itself.… and I just thought about fun ways people could do that. The Gouda cheeses have a butterscotch flavor so that made me think of toffee and that’s the direction I went with that cheese. I also got some help from my friends.
Vickie: I bet you had a lot of fun putting this book together!
Kirstin: I did! It involved cooking and tasting and I involved my friends. I interviewed 48 cheese makers…I got to go to Vermont and California…Oregon..and some of the southern cheese makers as well. I loved talking to them and I learned a lot.
Vickie: I bet it’s a lot like talking to a wine maker. They are very passionate about what they do. That comes across and it’s exciting to talk to people like that.
Kirstin: Exactly! You learn so many of the nuances about it…there are so many things that you don’t think about…
Vickie: We talked briefly about a cheesemonger. I know there are a lot of people out there
who have only bought cheese from a local grocery store. For my readers who have never been to a cheesemonger, do you have any tips that you can pass on so they can have a good forst experience?
Kirstin: Yes, yes! A good cheesemonger is going to be excited about introducing you to artisan cheeses. Don’t be afraid to tell them the types of cheeses you like….they will be excited to see that you want to learn…For instance, you can tell them you really like the extra sharp cheddar you buy at the grocery store and they can start there with the styles and flavors and move you into some really great artisanal cheeses. They will slice you little pieces so you can sample..and see what you like. As you return and keep tasting your palate will expand . You will find you like flavors in some of the cheese that you never thought you would like. A good cheese monger not only treats the cheese well but they also really help to educate and surprise people with different flavors. If you can find a place that’s friendly and lets you sample cheese….that’s a good start. Being able to sample helps you decide what you like and you can leave happy knowing you are going to enjoy the cheese that you have tasted in the shop.
Vickie: I like to keep a well-stocked kitchen. What cheeses do you usually keep on hand in your home?
Kirstin: You mentioned you like goat cheese.
Vickie: I LOVE goat cheese!
Kirstin: I love goat cheese too and I try to keep a fresh cheve on hand. You can use it for appetizers, for main dishes…whatever you like. I like to have a good grating cheese that can add some subtle flavors to a dish. I also like to have a good finishing hard cheese around. I also like having fetas on hand. They are great for salads and for freshening up dishes. I also keep an Alpine style cheese for cooking and melting. I could go on because there is just so much you can do!
Vickie: Do you have cheese that you like to give as a hostess gift or a special gift for a friend?
Kirstin: I love the idea of a cheese gift! One of the ones that seems to be available nationwide is Pleasant Ridge Reserve and it’s a beautiful Alpine style cheese made in Wisconsin. They only make it during the spring and summer months and I think that would be fantastic one for gift giving. Or you could go with a cute little goat cheese made from a local dairy near you. They are small, they are cute…and they look great on a cheese plate! ….Keep in mind to pick a people pleasing cheese because your host may serve it that day.
Kristin agreed to let me include a link to her blog for a few of her recipes. Here is a post she did with recipes you are sure to enjoy: Cheese Recipes by Kirstin Jackson
It’s Not You, It’s Brie is available at Amazon.com
Note: I want to thank Kirstin Jackson and The Penguin Group for making this interview possible.