Is that cheese… or a traffic cone?

A lovely yellow Mustard Seed Gouda from Holland.

A lovely yellow Mustard Seed Gouda from Holland.

Milk is white, not orange. Ever wondered how orange cheese was born?

Historically, cheese with more butterfat could be sold for a higher price at market. Higher butterfat naturally gives cheese a deeper, more creamy/yellowy color, so shoppers could look for more color when they wanted the best, most nutritious cheese. When ancient cheese makers wanted to cheat, they would skim the cream off of their milk and turn that into butter to make additional income. Then, left with only skim milk with which to make their cheese, they invented a way to give their “skinny” cheese the “heavyweight” color. Adding artificial colors from flower petals and other sources tricked consumers into paying more.

How and when this slight influence of color turned into the neon orange cheeses we see today, I have no idea. It must have been like someone who uses too much spray tanner… they just don’t know when to stop (and they think they look great).

Interestingly, orange cheeses have become staples of certain cultures. For instance, East Coast Americans want their Cheddar white and Midwestern Americans want their Cheddar orange. In fact, some cheese makers will produce the same cheese in both orange and white for different regions. Today, cheeses can be colored naturally (using annatto seed) or artificially (using synthetic dyes).

Tribute to delicious Alexandria Businesses: Willie Nelson thanks you

Yesterday, my husband and I hosted a “Happy Birthday Willie Nelson” party at our home. The red-headed stranger is turning 80 and what better tribute than to strut around in red bandanas, listen to Willie and his friends, inhale good old-fashioned American grub, and eat a huge cake decorated with Willie’s image?

In planning the party, I relied on three local Alexandria favorites to make sure the food was awesome (’cause I had a lot of red bandanas to fold):

1. Mama Reacer’s on Mt. Vernon Avenue: fried chicken, collards, yams. I ordered with Chef Chris on Friday and when I arrived to pick up on Saturday, there was such an impressive collection of hand-made foodstuffs, I almost cried. The love and care with which each item was prepared and packaged was amazing. I was shown each item and told exactly how to store then warm at home, putting extra emphasis on keeping that chicken crispy. Between the muffled grunts, lip smacking, and finger licking, I am sure that all of our guests fully enjoyed… they couldn’t believe I had access to this stuff a mere 4 blocks from my home. Just call me lucky.

2. Buzz Bakery on Slater’s Lane: enormous Willie Nelson-inspired birthday cake. When I first called and spoke to Kevin, I thought he would label me insane – “you’re having a party for whom?” I asked if his team could prepare a large sheet cake with an image of Willie. His response, “Wow – this is fun. Let me talk with our pastry chef and we’ll reference some images for inspiration. I’ll call you back soon with ideas.” My thoughts? “Is this guy for real?!?!” I soon heard back from Kevin, who told me that Alex was up to the challenge. They’d have it ready for me at 2:00, but they’d take it out of the fridge at the break of dawn so it was perfectly room temperature when we ate it. Nice!

3. Rockland’s BBQ on Quaker Lane: Mega helpings o’ BBQ. Poor Rocklands… I called them at 12:30 and asked in my nicest voice whether I could pick up 10 pounds of pulled pork (with buns), 4 quarts of coleslaw, and a quart of pickles in an hour. Their answer? Sure! When I picked up my order, the gentlemen behind the counter helped me pick some of their favorite hot sauces from the “Shelves of Fire”. I apologized for calling so late. Their response? “No problem at all! If you had called us 5 minutes ago, we still would have had it ready for you.” Um… can I bottle that Rockland’s hospitality please? Oh wait… they already have 🙂

Needless to say, the party was a huge success. Making a bunch of grown adults wear red bandanas ensures a fun afternoon. And giving their kids unlimited lollipops doesn’t hurt. Oh – and the weather was heavenly. But what really made the party memorable? The food! I have never seen guests take home so many leftovers – they were actually waiting in line to fill their to-go plates. Now that’s some good grub!

But what made me so super-duper proud was the collection of exceptional businesses right in our back yard. Each helped me plan, order, and execute and incredible spread. There was pride in every step, from Mama Reacer’s Chef Chris saying with a smile, “You made me work hard this morning“, to Buzz’s Alex laughing because after she put the cake photo online, her friends thought she actually knew Willie Nelson, to the kind folks at Rockland’s making sure I had three unique yet equally-complimentary sauces for both pulled pork and fried chicken. As a business owner, I know how hard it is to pull off the ultimate combo: great service and great product. It was great to see these folks in action.

Thank you all!

Oh – and check out that cake – it’s amazing what a gifted person can do with buttercream…


OMG! Food & Wine!

I’ve never really been an “OMG” person, but suffice it to say that it is every restauranteur’s dream to be featured in Food & Wine Magazine. And this month, that honor is ours! Cheesetique’s original and classic Mac ‘n Cheesetique was selected as one of the best mac ‘n cheeses in the entire country! Thank you so much, Food & Wine folks. You really made our Christmas!

Check out the details here.

Filed in: Blogging

Hell hath no fury like Santa scorned: the stinkier side of Christmas

So, here’s my theory. Santa is kind of a vindictive guy. If you’re naughty, not only will he withhold gifts, but he will even go out of his way to leave a piece of coal in your stocking. Coal is heavy and carrying a load of it on a sleigh is no small thing. You have to be really irked to roll this way. You’re not just ignoring people’s requests – you’re actually leaving a mean little reminder of the fact that they failed at basic niceness.

This holiday season, I have a great – dare I say revolutionary – idea for Santa. Instead of leaving coal, leave a big hunk of stinky cheese. Here are just five of the reasons:

  1. You think coal is punishment? Imagine waking to find a warm, gooey wad of super-stinky cheese jammed at the bottom of your stocking.
  2. Stinky cheese will stick with you. You dig your hand down, looking for chocolate, but NO! Instead, you are marked for the rest of the day by the tell-tale funk of naughtiness. And I challenge you to wash it off – not happening! It’s like the Scarlet Letter and Macbeth all rolled into one. Out, damned stink!
  3. Stinky cheese is less wasteful. Honestly, what are all the naughty kids going to do with their hunks of coal? Nothing! If you leave them stinky cheese instead, there’s at least a chance one of their grandparents will say, “Hey – no need to waste that cheese. Just get me a cracker.”
  4. Stinky cheese is more humane. Let’s not forget about the extra work for the elves (hopefully just the naughty ones), who are probably forced to mine all that coal while being prodded with candy canes. It’s a sad thing.
  5. Stinky cheese is flexible. Someone was just a little naughty? Leave them a wedge of Reblochon. Medium-naughty? Limburger. Super-naughty? Stinking Bishop all the way.

Santa, I like you. You’ve always been good to me (I particularly remember the year you brought an Easy-Bake Oven and a set of walkie-talkies). Plus, I get you. You’re not a turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy. You reward the good and wreak havoc on the bad. But trust me when I say there is WAY more reeky havoc at your fingertips. Just give me a call and I’ll hook you up. I’ll also mention it to our Elf on the Shelf just in case.

Merry Christmas to all you hard-core Santas out there! And we’ll have your stinky cheese waiting!

Filed in: Blogging, Cheeses

An Ode to The Cheese Stands Alone – and Matt Parker

Back in 2004, there were no cheese shops in our area. Sure, there were wine shops which also sold cheese, but no one who was fromage-focused. That needed to change, obviously. I knew cheese but I had no idea how to run a cheese business – I had never even worked in retail before. Having no immediate resources, I consulted the trusty internet and was surprised that all over the country, there were very few true cheese shops. Of course there were the superheroes, like Murray’s in New York, but that would be like asking Barbra Streisand for singing lessons. I had to find someone who did what I wanted to do… and who would help me learn.

Enter Matt Parker of The Cheese Stands Alone, which had opened in Chicago the year before. One email was all it took – Matt responded right away and not only offered to answer my questions, but invited me to shadow him in his shop. Imagine that! Back then, I didn’t realize what a big deal it was. Now that I own my own business and see how exhausting and engrossing it is, his openness was nothing short of extraordinary. Little did he know when he encouraged my questions that I would show up with multiple pages of them. The cheese cases I bought? Matt told me to go True. The slicer? Twelve inch blade, just like Matt said. The care we take with our cheeses? Matt showed me it could be done with passion and precision. Eight years later, there is nothing about which he steered me wrong.

So why this belated homage? I just found out that The Cheese Stands Alone closed back in 2008, right about the time when we were expanding and freaking out about adding a restaurant. A cheese restaurant. A cheese restaurant that might never have been if a kindly cheese pioneer like Matt Parker had ignored me… or said the cheese business was awful… or told me to take a hike.

Thank you, Matt Parker, on behalf of myself and the 80 wonderful cheese geeks who work in our two locations today. I hope you’re kicking ass somewhere great and keepin’ it real. And the next time you’re in DC, please come by – I owe you a drink (and a lot more).

Filed in: Blogging

Holiday Hoopla at Cheesetique

There are so many things to rave about this holiday season at Cheesetique.

1. Want to have a mellow but festive New Year's Eve? Cheesetique is having our annual New Year's Eve Dinner. Reservations are required. Read more here…

2. Need a gift? Purchase our beautiful gift cards online. Read more here…

3. Seeking that perfect hostess gift? Our specialty buckets do the trick every time. Read more here…

4. Entertaining in your home? Nothing serves you better than a gorgeous, ready-to-serve cheese platter. Read more here…

Filed in: Blogging