When Barrie Lynn invites you to one of her events, go. The former ad exec, who calls herself The Cheese Impresario, hosted a luxurious tasting at a Hancock Park residence on March 19 featuring an impressive arsenal of artisanal cheese, rum and chocolate. It was easily one of the most indulgent meals in memory.
Barrie Lynn featured Wisconsin cheeses from three different award-winning producers. The 6-year cow’s milk cheddar from Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in Theresa and the 10-year cow’s milk cheddar from Hook’s Cheese Company in Mineral Point were both excellent. The 10-year had more bite and added textural depth.
Between bites, Barrie Lynn clarified an issue that’s been on my mind. Orange cheese isn’t unnatural; it’s just stained that color with flavorless annatto seeds.
The cheddar was good, but it was Marieke Penterman’s Gouda from Holland’s Family Farm that will linger in my memory. Penterman contributed raw milk, aged, Foenegreek and Burning Nettle Melange Gouda, all made using cow’s milk in Thorp, Wisconsin. Barrie Lynn revealed that Penterman ages the cheese on Dutch pine planks for 4-6 months “to develop a creamy, nutty flavor.” The raw Gouda was certainly soft and creamy. Foenegreek seeds are used in curry, and they imparted an unusual flavor. The aged Gouda was especially impressive, a firmer cheese with explosively flavored crystallization. Burning nettle Gouda was also a knockout, nice and herbaceous. Barrie Lynn’s decorative Cheese tepees were surrounded by pounds of walnuts, pecans and dried black Mission figs.
Barrie Lynn clearly cares about the cheese producers and tells their stories in person and on printed scrolls. For example, Tony & Julie Hook were college sweethearts who have made cheese for over 35 years. “They spent months refurbishing an abandoned facility built in the 1850s that was once a livery stable and a blacksmith’s shop before being converted to a cheese plant in 1929. Built into the side of a hill, the building came with ideal cave-like conditions for aging cheese, and the Hooks have made doing so an art form…Their awards are numerous and Julie Hook was, and still is, the only woman to win the World Cheese Championship.”
Henry Preiss of Ramona-based Preiss Imports contributed nine different bottles of rum. He was originally supposed to bring three bottles, but tripled his donation to help show the liqueur’s range. It was interesting to see the bottles lined up, with some a deep brown from molasses and other bottles clear from sugar cane.
Everybody was reaching for the bottle of English Harbour 1981 rum, distilled in whiskey and bourbon barrels in honor of the Antiguan company’s 75th anniversary and bottled in 2006. English Harbour is a bay known for yacht races. The smoky, caramel-noted liqueur was a big hit.
I was also impressed with the Cadenhead’s Classic Green Label Rum, but mainly due to its provenance. The rum is actually bottled in Scotland after being aged in Scottish whiskey barrels. It had more bite, since it was 50% ABV as opposed to the English Harbour 1981, which was only 40% ABV.
Another interesting choice: Rum Toucano, made in Brazil from fresh-crushed sugar cane instead of molasses, making it lighter. It also had an oak smokiness from being aged for two years in oak casks. The bottle was also hand-wrapped in a decorative netting of carnauba palm fronds. Preiss said that 5000 women wrap a staggering 60 million bottles per year, 12,000 bottles apiece.
Preiss has assembled a veritable encyclopedia of alcoholia. He has detailed sections that define products like Armagnac, Bourbon, Cognac, Pisco and Whiskey. The PREISS IMPORTS WEBSITE features many of the product descriptions, but you should still get your hands on a catalog.
Amedei chocolate from Italy offered different pluses. Most impressive: miniature bars of #9, a 75% bitter chocolate; and Chuao, a similarly bittersweet chocolate from Valenzuela.
This could hardly be considered a balanced meal, but for one night, that didn’t matter. Barrie Lynn offered a great learning and tasting experience.