01 June 2005

or, The Search for the Perfect Cheese

Today, my family and I took an outing to Sonoma, a bit down the road from our home in Napa. Sonoma is a lovely little town, built around a central square park. It is home to wine-tasting rooms, gourmet restaurants, the last California mission, boutique clothing and knick-knack stores, art galleries, and artisan cheese shops. Our initial mission was to the appropriately named "Flag Shop," as our Stars and Stripes had begun to fade a bit and needed replacing. A secondary mission, only remembered after the visit to the Flag Shop, was the search for Montbriac.

Montbriac is a cheese. My parents had first encountered it sometime ago on a dessert cheese plate at dinner at Trefethen winery, but had never seen it in any of Napa's stores, though many stores here have excellent cheese selections.

We went first to the Cheese Factory, which is actually more of a deli. My mother went once around the store and declared that they didn't have what we were looking for, so we left there quickly. My father then remembered a cheese shop on a side road, housed in an old brewery. They had a few very delicious cheese made on site, and some imports, but not what we were looking for. We purchased a better-than-average Monterey Jack, and an exquisitely squishy Toma. The owner suggested we try a store on the next street.

Immediately upon entering "The Cheesemaker's Daughter," my mother inquired whether there was any Montbriac to be had. No, the owner replied, she didn't have any, but she was sure there was some at the Sonoma Market, and would we like to try some of the day's special? It was called Morbier, and is to date the only blue cheese I like. It's very soft, has one blue stripe down the center, and is quite mild as blue cheeses go. We got some of that, and a jar of fig preserves. I took a detour to the book store across the street to purchase a children's book called "The Jazz Fly," (complete with accompanying CD and already autographed by the author), and a mystery novel. This is the third musically-related children's book I've purchased in as many months; either my biological clock is ticking a bit early, or I've regressed to early childhood.

On to the Sonoma Market. Dad went in while Mom and I stayed in the car to avoid the crowd. I was busily flipping the pages of my new books when Dad emerged triumphant: Montbriac had been found! He had also found a baguette, some fruit, and some lunch meat, so we headed off to Gundlach-Bundschu winery for a picnic. (Sonoma Valley Inebriation Test #1: If you can't say "Gundlach-Bundschu Gewurtztraminer," you shouldn't be driving.) The weather was perfect--warm even in the shade, but with enough of a breeze to keep it from being hot. There is a little picnic ground shaded by olive trees with a view of a lake just outside the entrance to the tasting room. The winery also hosts arts events--we may go back in a few weeks for some live music, a BBQ, and a showing of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

The picnic was wonderful. Dad had found pears at the market which was perfectly ripe, sweet and soft and full of juice that ran down our fingers and faces when we bit into them, and they made a perfect accompaniment to the Montbriac. Montbriac is a soft cheese which comes in a rind, much like brie in appearance and texture, but with a subtlely sharper and more complex flavor. It was lovely with the sweet fruit and the slightly sour bread. Dad bought a case of the G-B "Bearitage," and we drove home. I read my books a little, and dozed for the rest of the ride.

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