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).
You can choose to completely escape Duval if you’d like, but I feel that you’ll miss out. The shops are mainly filled with gaudy souvenirs, junky jewelry, and offensive t-shirts and the bars are populated with creepy guys checking out the dangerously intoxicated college girls, but there’s still a charm to the mile-long tourist trap. At night, there is a vibe similar to the heavily partied areas of Amsterdam, especially considering that the adult entertainment club on upper Duval advertises live shows. Steer clear of that place and other wallet-emptying traps and enjoy yourself among the stumbling spring breakers and bachelorette parties on Duval St.
While exploring the bars of Duval with my country music-loving brother, I found myself at a Honky Tonk Saloon. Not surprisingly, I had never been to a honky tonk saloon and I hope to never go again. The place was riddled with people in cowboy boots square dancing while their bear sloshed onto the floor. A man sang a song about how he liked his women a little bit trashy.
Despite the fact that I, in my velvet shorts and black lipstick, stuck out a little bit, I actually had a really fun time here. We played a game of beer pong and I was somehow convinced to ride a mechanical bull. I did a pretty good job, despite the amount I had drunk prior. It’s a good time, but I wouldn’t go in without my brother.
Average live music and an expected beer selection are not quite as charming as the dollar bills plastered on the ceiling and walls at Willi T’s, the ghosts of tourists past. But the space is open, inviting and comfortable making it one of the better spots to grab a beer on the strip.
A beer enthusiast will quickly notice that Key West has a deficiency of craft brews. Enter World of Beers, a chain pub with a varied tap of 60+ imported and domestic beers. The best beer we enjoyed was the Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout.
It was a large bar and seemed like a nice place to hang out. Unfortunately, the bartenders that day were very rude. I felt like a drunk Cubs fan in Wrigleyville, where I would at least have understood their attitude. Still, the beer is awesome and they have a dollar-off happy hour from 4 – 7 PM.
You probably won’t find hot college girls standing around topless, rather you’re more likely to accidentally bump into some creepy guys and their dongs. However, it’s worth stopping into. What’s the worst that can happen in a nude garden rooftop bar?
I’m a sucker for a good drag show and the Aquanettes delivered. Gaga tore the floor up, Tina Turner showed off her gams and we even got a taste of a Chicago cabaret. One of the queens also prerecorded an array of raunchy songs that she accessorized with outlandish costumes and poking fun at the straight boys in the audience. Each performance is entwined with the queens walking up and down the runways allowing you to stuff money into their cleavages. The drinks are fairly priced, allowing for a rambunctious event.
The show is fairly long, running just past 2 hours. At the end, the dancing is replaced by slower impersonations like Adele, suggesting that the girls have tired. The audience is at its drunkest, so most won’t notice the drop off. However, each performance becomes a little repetitive and the show begins to drag a bit. Regardless of the somewhat slow ending, this is a really good drag show and I recommend spending a night here.
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!
The average temperature during our week in Key West was around 70° F, which hardly warrants cooling off with ice cream. But when you’re on vacation, you don’t really need an excuse to eat ice cream. I’ve found the best place to indulge in a scoop or four is at Flamingo’s Crossing on upper Duval. This Chicagoan-owned parlor creates each of their flavors in house. Varieties include everything from guava to Florida honey nut and a couple classics in between. Be sure to sample a couple different flavors before making your choice. I enjoyed an intensely refreshing chardonnay sorbet with a scoop of key lime frozen yogurt. Jacob went for two scoop of mint chocolate chip, doused in chocolate jimmies. All three flavors were silky smooth and utterly delicious, but at the high price of $11.50 together.
My dwindling budget and sluggish “island-time” pace kept me from ever dining at Blue Heaven, but one bite of their key lime pie encourages me to visit if I’m ever back on the island. A crisp graham cracker crust cradles a freshly-squeezed lime filling and mile-high toasted meringue. While the meringue skin is a little gummy, all in all Blue Heaven’s pie is the best key lime pie that I tried. Considering the modest Winn Dixie version is actually delicious, this is saying a lot. I recommend stopping by for some live music and a slice of pie.
My experience with Old Town Bakery hardly goes beyond window shopping. On a daily basis, I marveled at the sign that listed frozen coffee and a charming pun, “Get your buns in here!” I visited on my second day on the island and drooled over the selection of familiar artisanal cheeses. Regrettably, I never enjoyed their fudgy brownies or flaky croissants. Rather, my only true experience is with their baguettes, which were terrible. These loaves weren’t even worth buttering: a dense, tough crumb with a chewy crust that was a little burnt at the end. I don’t think this speaks about the bakery as much as it does the lack of baguette culture in the US. However, this place still intrigues me. If I were to go back, I would tear up their pastry case and a large frozen coffee.
I never got to experience this restaurant, but I’m still drooling over the menu. Desserts include Young’s Chocolate Stout cake with irish cream as well as a grilled cheese with Brie and Belgian chocolate alongside strawberry champagne soup. Enjoy a bottle of cabernet with two chocolate rimmed glasses or a Prosecco cocktail with lavender and honey. If you have a large group, be aware: in order to keep the setting intimate, they do not cater to parties larger than four. I’d recommend going with a date for a sensual experience.
This coffee shop was located just steps from the house we were renting. Their espresso is pretty good and their quiche looks yummy, but I do wish they were a little more inviting. You only get 1 hour of wifi use for each $6 purchase. Jacob stopped in to write a paper, with out planning on using the wifi, and they were reluctant to let him stay with a $4.50 purchase. In my opinion, coffee shops should be places where you can concentrate on work or studying. It’s large enough to accommodate several people and it never got busy while we were there. Anyway, they have good coffee and if you’re taking it on the go it’s worth a visit.
I didn’t try all of the coffee on the island so I can’t say this is the best, but the iced coffee was damn good. It was cold brewed and then poured over frozen cubes of coffee. It was delicious and completely refreshed me of my hangover.The pastries also looked pretty tasty. If you’re wandering along Duval, I recommend stopping in for an iced coffee drink.
If you’re a city dweller escaping winter in the tropics, odds are you are in need of a pedicure. Why not throw in a glass of bubbly or a beer for the treatment? Nail Bar & Lounge will not only provide you with an excellant pedicure, but they’ll also booze you up. You’re in Key West, after all. Why not?
It’s not an impressive drink menu, but they’ve covered their bases. Not only did I receive a detailed pedicure and warm hospitality, they also directed me towards my new pair of Kino sandals. At $45, it’s an expensive pedicure, but that’s what you’ll get on Duval.
If you’re shopping on Duval, or even on a side street close by, chances are you’re going to get ripped off. If you forgot a pair of sandals, you probably won’t be able to find a decent pair for under $40, unless you know about Kino Sandal Factory.
Kino designs and makes all of their sandals by hand. You can even watch as they assemble each shoe using all-natural leather and rubber souls. The sandals are $14 each on average, which is an absolute steal. There was a woman getting a pedicure next to me at Nail Bar and she was wearing her Kino’s. She told me that she had worn the sandals every day for two years and they were still in great shape. Not only are they a sturdy sandal, but they’re also really cute. Even if you’re a flipflop hater like myself, the variety of styles and colors will certainly suit your needs. No half sizes available, I recommend rounding up.
A junk shop is always a fantastic place to capture the true spirit of any town and that’s exactly why I biked across the island to Neat Stuff. While the majority of thrift stores are filled with clothing best suited for the eldery, this place has all of the eccentric, colorful costuming you’d hope to find on an island like this. The sign on the door immediately captured my heart: “Controlled canines welcome. Out of control children, not so much.”
I loved browsing through the vintage sequined dresses, thrifty sun hats and crystal costume jewelry. The real charm is in the campy household items, especially a particular rhinestone panther that caught my eye. I recommend biking up here and then taking S Roosevelt Rd for a gorgeous view of the ocean.
If you’re feeling fancy and looking to splurge on yourself, visit Key West’s apothecary shop in Bahama Village. You can find linen table cloths, sophisticated aprons, satin house slippers and all sorts of fragrances, lotions, scents and soaps. It’s a little outrageous how expensive everything is, but their selection is breathtaking. You’ll feel like you left the island for an hour in Paris as you sample the various perfumes or browse the candy selections. Even if you’re like me and can’t afford to spend $50 on napkins for your blog, you’ll enjoy the trip.