This One Time at Cheese Camp…
It was one of the most indulgent experience of my life.
Let me give you the highlights with 5 things I learned at Cheese Camp.
This weekend, I’m flying out to San Francisco to attend the Cheesemonger Invitational, a biannual competition among the country’s best cheesemongers.
They’ll cut, they’ll wrap, they’ll pair, they’ll plate, and they will PREACH that curd word!
A cheesemonger is more than just a curd nerd who can break down a wheel of cheese into wedges.
I think CMI’s website says it best:
“Great cheese does not exist without great cheesemongers. They are caretakers, truth tellers and therapists for the cheese. They are knights, priests, and politicians for the cheese. They are the last stop before consumption. Without great cheesemongers, cheese dies a lonely, sad death. And when a cheesemonger does their job well, a cheese lives its final days with Nobility, Honor and Respect. This profession requires an unwavering commitment to practical skills, as well as, a never-ending desire to learn more about history and science. The Cheesemonger Invitational is that rare opportunity for amazing cheesemongers to be celebrated by their community.”
Yeah, they’re pretty dope people, and they put on a hell of a show.
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Last Saturday was Jacob’s birthday and we were both in desperate need of some time away so I swept him off to Milwaukee. Though we only had one day to spend in the city, I wanted to simulate a full, meditative, leisurely vacation, one that would make us feel as though we had escaped for much longer. In one short 24 hour period, I packed in the perfect itinerary of eats, drinks, and activities. I’d like to think that I nailed it – even my AirBNB host was impressed.
Here’s a short guide highlighting some of my favorite spots in Milwaukee. You can do it all in a day, or spread it out over several. If you have some suggestions, leave them for me in the comments. I’ll check them out on my return trip.
Last weekend, I paid my first visit to San Francisco, California. I went to support my one and only curd sister Katie Potts of Petoskey Cheese as she competed in the Olypmics of cheese competitions, The Cheesemonger Invitational (CMI).
I often dream about owning my own cheese shop. I’d stock only the best of what’s in season, each cheese lovingly cared for by myself, alongside a curated selection of accoutrements — all for the purpose of imbuing my community with cheese culture. Yet though I often dream about it, I never actually consider putting it all together. It seems so unfeasible for someone of my age.
But that didn’t stop Katie Potts, one of the dearest people to my heart and my true curd sister. Two months ago, Katie gave birth to a beautiful baby business in the heart of her hometown. She named it Petoskey Cheese.
Since I joined the American workforce, I have worked through Labor Day Weekend. This year, I have a big girl job. That means I get “holidays” and “weekends” and have “money.” I took advantage of my three-days of freedom with a short cruise south to the capital of bourbon whiskey, Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a hipster town replete with thriving niche stores, liberal youths, and gentle southern drawls. For three days, my honey Jacob and I ate and drank our way through this little city, biking the roads and shopping their farmers markets. I’m already planning my trip back.
The first annual cheesetopia took place on April 12 in Milwaukee. It was a fun day! I got to go on a road trip with one of my best friends, Katie Potts, and we ate cheese until we were sick. It was her first time to Wisconsin, so we drank some New Glarus beer and shopped around the Milwaukee Public Market.
The fest itself was pretty cool, though I have to say that it was too expensive. The $25 ticket fee paid for entrance, which was barely monitored, and an insulated bag. Drinks were about five dollars each and then there was the shopping. Of course, we bought two wheels of cheese, Ames honey, and Potter’s crackers. Essentially, you’re paying to shop. I wish the ticket came with a beer. or that there were more accoutrement vendors. Overall, we had fun but I’d be reluctant to pay that much again (especially if I was still unemployed, cheesus forbid).
Key West is only 74 square miles. While it may seem like the activities on this tiny island are limited to the tourist traps and the drinking binges, you can actually entertain yourself with a myriad of culture, shopping and even some adult-themed fun.
You should prioritize walking around the island every day. Key West is filled with history, visible in the architecture from the antique homes to the churches. The island is also overrun with free-range chickens. No, my hipster meat-eating friends, you can not eat these chickens. Like the six-toed cats, they’re treasured residents of the island. You can, however, take home a painting of a rooster wearing high heels, but let’s try to steer clear of that…
Street theater may be somewhat lowbrow, but you can’t help but experience a childlike awe while watching the fire swallowers, tightrope walkers and other performers. Under their sun-loved skin and croaky voices, there is a powerful ability to captivate an audience. Some of them will perform truly impressive and dangerous looking feats, others will simply provide a laugh. This is a tourist destination, so the crowd is mainly made up of spring breakers, families, old people and couples on anniversary trips. It’s a fun event, especially if you don’t care about taking a picture of the sunset. Walk around with a beer in hand and let yourself loose. The festival starts two hours before sunset.
The best way to navigate the tiny island is by renting a bike. It’s relatively inexpensive and you can pretty much get around the entire island in one hour. There are plenty of rental stores to choose from, but supplies may run low during spring break season. We enjoyed our cruisers from Eaton bikes in Old Town, though people taller than 6 feet might have trouble fitting on this style of bike.
The majority of the galleries in Key West are tourist traps, with cheesy paintings and rather kitschy sculptures. However. you can find some more interesting art in the studios of the gallery district on White Street. Every first Thursday of the month, I hear you can take a nighttime gallery tour with a little wine. I can’t confirm this, but if you’re heading in to town you should look into it.
I try to avoid beaches, because I enjoy my pale, cancer-free skin and I hate sand. Despite my apprehensions, Fort Zachary Taylor beach is absolutely gorgeous. Surrounded by tropical forests and dotted with rock formations. Even a beach-hater like myself had to enjoy a couple of hours by the ocean. While the rocky sand may hurt to walk on, the gravel-like floor made for less sand up in my business. The spring break crowd is mostly confined to Smathers Beach; here you’ll find tourists and cruise ship riders. Amenities include restrooms, rentals cafes, and tours of the historic civil war era fort.
We were lucky to have been located a mere block away from this market. The display case selection is gorgeous, with crab claws, lobster tail, shrimp and other locally caught fish. You’re also able to select any one of these fish, and they’ll fry it up and put it on a ciabatta bun with fixings. We went to town on a snowy grouper sandwich with a side of plantain chips. It’s certainly in the running for one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had, simply because of that buttery grouper. The store also has a pretty decent beer selection.
While a ways from the dow town area, Fishbusters offers an array of fresh seafood. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth stopping in for some snapper, hogfish, or shellfish. The shrimp is divine!
If you’re a hot sauce fiend, then you’ll adore Peppers of Key West. It’s best to taste the hot sauces after a couple of drinks, which will ease the repeated burn, and purchase a bottle once you’re sober again. While the prices are a little overblown, they have some great sauces. We took home the Ring of Fire Xtra Hot Habenero Hot Sauce, a delicious and smoky treat. This is absolutely a tourist trap, but it’s actually really fun.
While I often struggled to purchase the right beer from the limited selection of craft brews available, I was delighted to discover the diverse array at The Restaurant Store. While I like to think that Chicago has one of the best beer selections, I discovered several beers that I’ve never before seen in my hometown. Also, I noticed that their wine selection, while quaint, was both fairly priced and higher quality than what I had seen elsewhere. If you love beer, this place is for you.
Key West is known for its homo-friendly attitude, and you gotta love it. At this all-gay resort, men are able to frolic in the nude and relax by the waters. Obviously, they wouldn’t let me go inside, but places like this make me wish I was a gay man.
This place hand makes their leather toys in house. It’s almost like the Kino Sandal Factory of S&M. Discover a variety of accessories toys and costumes for the trip. I wonder if they sell a gay man costume that so I can disguise myself in order to get into Island House…
Key West was originally named Cayo Hueso, Spanish for “bone cay (reef).” Historically, the island was used as a communal graveyard for deceased natives. The city is filled with stories about pirates, shipwreckers and other ghostly tales. While I kept it simple with a book of tales, I highly recommend Sloan’s ghost tour, the city’s original ghost hunt. In addition to receiving a rundown of the otherworldly residents of the island, this 90 minute walking tour conjures and communicates with spirits in the heart of the city. I’m not sure how successful the conjuring is but it’s certainly an educational experience and you get a free book. Tours depart nightly, rain or shine and are limited to 20 people. Please provide 24 hours notice.
There are a lot of little museums in Key West and I didn’t even go to one of them. However, this is the one that repeatedly caught my eye. It might because it’s the current residence of Robert the Doll, a toy who used to haunt the artist house on Eaton Street. Among the relics, the museum also has plenty of folk art and sculptures.
This house was owned by Captain John H. Geiger, a “wrecker” who made his living by by salvaging artifacts from shipwrecks. Legend has it that he also engaged in piracy. His spirit is said to still haunt the house as is his daughter Hannah, who died at the age of 10. If you aren’t into the spooky stuff, than it’s still worth viewing the lovely home that’s filled with antiques and complete with a tropical garden.
If you’re interested in home tours, it’s a lovely house and I’m sure the six-toed cats spice things up. This is another one of those tourist-clogged events and you will most likely have to wait in line. I’m not a fan of house tours, so I merely peaked over the fence and felt satisfied.
There is nothing like the juxtaposition of clear blue skies, lively palm trees and gravestones. This cemetery is stunning, with many of the graves decaying, cracked or lying on a slant. It was established in 1847, after a hurricane washed away all of the dead bodies buried in the previous cemetary spot, by the West Martello Tower. Considering the island started out as a graveyard, this is a wonderful visit. The iguanas love it here too!