Annual Cheese Fest serves up hearty slices

all photos Paul Zombory/Catalyst

Gruyere, mountain gorganzola, brie served on tiny bread slices with sweet fig jam and many, many other delicious cheeses welcomed the taste buds of over 70 attendees of the Gulf Coast Cheese Fest’s grand tasting event. Crowds of people made their way from table to table toting branded yellow and orange bags filled with informational pamphlets and the occasional block of cheese the enthused attendee would buy after tasting a morsel.  Employees of restaurants, catering services and food stores greeted the tasters with a salesman’s smile as they knowledgably spouted the unique details of their samples.

On Sat., Apr. 28 Tommy Klauber, owner of Polo Grill and Bar and Pattigeorges, and Molly Klauber, President of Go To Girl, hosted their second annual Gulf Coast Cheese Fest at the G. Wiz science museum. The fest was created last year in hopes to create more tourism in Sarasota, local business exposure and to celebrate the artistry of cheese tasting.

Though some tables offered cheese-inspired dishes such as soufflés, macaroni and cheese and even pizza, most of the samples were simple slices, cubes or spreads of raw cheese often complemented (depending on the cheese) with things such as blueberries, caramelized almonds or fig jam. Your Catalyst correspondent’s favorite, however, was a serious one-up to his mom’s classic mac and cheese with a rich Swiss and Parmesan based sauce, doused with white truffle oil.

Most tables included blocks of whole cheeses ready in case fest-goers wanted to buy anything they ate. A few other items deemed complementary to the cheeses were also made available to purchase and not to taste such as raw cherry honey, chocolate, fig cake with almonds or various gourmet nuts. Two large rows of tables held the beers and wines, where many tasters would go for refreshments and information on which beverage pairs with the plethora of cheeses abundant at the event.

Many of Sarasota food businesses came out to show off their cheese concoctions, the most notable being Whole Foods, Morton’s Gourmet Market & Catering, Michael’s on East and Boar’s Head. Some presented some interesting examples of cheese culture. A Whole Foods employee cut a roughly 85 pound Parmigiano-Reggiano in half to plate a few shavings of the rough, granular Italian cheese. The employee claimed the 23-month old product was “one of the most unique cheeses.” Like a champagne of dairy products, it can only be legally labeled “Parmigiano-Reggiano” if it has been made within certain provinces in Italy.

“We practically brought our entire cheese selection,” said another Whole Foods employee.

Local business Morton’s Gourmet Market & Catering set up a station specifically for those delicate cheeses of notoriously bad odor.  The table offered blue pins with the words “Think Stink” printed on their front. If tasters were brave enough, they could ignore the smell of feet as they tried favorite stinky cheeses such as Limburger or Taleggio.

Tickets were priced at $15 per adult and $7 per child with all the money benefitting the G. Wiz science museum. Though many adults brought their young children, the event was clearly marketed to a more refined pallet and many of the tables offered samples of beer or wine cheese pairings.  Most of the children played in the interactive museum’s play area while their parents sampled some less than kid-friendly tastes such as pineapple papaya goat cheese or black truffle Portuguese cheese.

For those really eager to impress others with the acumen of a cheese connoisseur, the event offered classes during the day such as “How to Navigate the Cheese Counter” and “Beer Vs. Wine Cheese Pairing.” Each class cost $20 but one didn’t have to stop spending there. In the evening from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. the fest held its classiest event yet — the Cheese Ball (the pun’s surely intended).  For a whopping $100 entrance fee, guests were encouraged to dress “camera ready” as they indulged in cheesy hors d’oeuvres, a full bar and musical entertainment in the Fete Ballroom at the Polo Grill and Bar.

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