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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Monday, May 20

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Random Tue Jul 15 2008

How to Sample Cheese

Sampling cheese needs instructions? Isn't it as simple as, open mouth, insert cheese, repeat until ill or otherwise immobilized (or, worst case scenario, out of cheese)? Apparently there are cheese manners to be observed -- particularly on the farmer's market circuit, where all manner of grubby hands are grabbing after the goods. Imposing some routine structure and discipline in cheese-handling is the least our local cheese mongers can do.

There seem to be two main camps of cheese sampling convention -- the simple tools method, and the what we'll call the gravity method. I participated in the simple tools method this past Sunday at the Logan Square farmer's market, where Provenance had set up a tent with about eight varieties of cheese available to try. Each cheese, from chipotle-infused cheddar, to a combination sheep and goat's milk number where the two cheeses were separated by a layer of ash, was packed into the separated wells of what seemed to be a reclaimed prep pan, the whole pan surrounded by ice packs to keep the dairy from getting funky. Toothpicks and little tasting spoons were proffered to actually sample the cheese -- no direct hand-to-cheese contact! And it seemed using one toothpick per cheese was preferable to double-picking.

This morning I stopped by the Federal Plaza farmer's market to pick up some snacks for tonight's movie in Grant Park. I've worked across the street from it for years, but was always strapped with afternoon meetings preventing actually visiting the market, which I was pleasantly surprised to find incredibly well-stocked with tons of produce, flowers, and even honey vendor that had brought their own miniature working bee hive under glass -- being clumsy, I studiously avoided this table. But felt I could stop by the lone cheese tent without incident. I didn't catch the vendor's name, though they mentioned the majority of their cheeses come from a consortium of small dairies in southern Wisconsin. The gal behind the table was very patient with letting me sample a few different varieties and weighing different saran-wrapped hunks to pick the best price (a brie layers of toasted almonds, apricots and honey) and least messy (a sturdy, buttery tasting raw cow's milk). Her method for testing was a little more low-tech -- with one gloved hand, she'd pick up a modest sample and drop it into my hand. All gravity, very simple, and yet hygienic. (Except that, when she wasn't looking, a passerby totally just dove in and grabbed a chunk off her cutting board with their un-gloved hand. Such is life.) Good things to keep in mind for future shopping.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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