While I love the semester-long classes offered in American River College’s culinary program, I also, sometimes, sign up for short, single-session classes, such as the cheese seminars at the annual California Artisan Cheese Festival or the butchering demos found at Taylor’s Market. This past summer, I encountered for the first time experience classes offered by the state fair. Depending upon which class I took, it was either a great-value experience for only five dollars or a five-dollar experience.
A taste of honey…no, not yet
I wish I could say I really enjoyed this class and got a lot out of it, especially given my everlasting love for all things culinary. To be fair, though, I think I walked in with high expectations for the experience and, really, this was my first time attending these so I had no idea what to expect. In any case, I had been looking forward to this class once I purchased the tickets for it (my stoic husband, Gabriel, joined me, as he often does).
The experience started out promising – the class itself; we, OTOH, arrived a few minutes late despite allowing an extra 15-20 minutes to find the building (the forbidden selfie stick I had in my purse had to be trekked back to the car before we could get in; I should’ve checked on that but, then again, I’d had no idea that selfie sticks were banned).
We end up rushing in about 5-10 minutes late – me very concerned we’d missed out on a lot. The instructor was in the middle of talking, which I came to realize was on a bit of her background, so we really hadn’t missed out on anything yet. She sounded like she’d know her stuff as she’s associated with the honey program at UC Davis.
After her background, she talked about the history of honey for a while; I think that part went for about 30 minutes. I was pretty surprised and pondered that I might’ve been incorrect about the honey-tasting aspect. Nope, wrong again, pleasantly so, as we were about to embark on our sweet experience.
Ta-da! the tasting
Again, I probably expected too much, especially since the experience was only five dollars. We’d paid $75 each for the “Exploring Your Palate” seminar at the cheese festival. I don’t know if I’d say THAT was worth $75 (maybe $50), but we did get a very nice selection of artisan cheeses, fruit and salumi. While not as fancy, I was hoping for a somewhat similar but very scaled-down experience.
Back on topic – there was very little honey tasting we actually did, which was disappointing. There was a quite nice and detailed honey flavor wheel we got to look at that was from the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center (look at it; sadly, we didn’t get to keep it – that in itself likely would’ve been $5). For one, I never knew honey could have an “animal” taste (the instructor’s description also sounded not so tasty). There were a few detailed slides of how to taste honey. Equipped with our little plastic spoons, we swirled in our four tiny honey samples and tasted each in the final 10-15 minutes of the class.
Looking back on it now, I realize there’s only so much honey a person could taste, and a full hour or, even, 30 minutes, could be excessive. If I were to do it again, I’d hope that other things would be added, even something as simple as a glass of water and the suggestion to use it to cleanse our palates between each honey or some neutral accompaniment on which to partake of the honey.
So there was around a 15-minute break between experience classes (I’d signed us up for the cheese-tasting class that was happening right after the honey-tasting class). I was looking forward to this class even more than the honey class. An old instructor of mine from the ARC culinary program, Chef Roxanne O’Brien, was teaching this class, and I always found myself learning a lot from her. Thankfully, she did not disappoint (hooray!).
As opposed to the honey class, this experience class launched directly into the tasting of the cheese. We were each provided a plate of five different cheeses on crackers and an information sheet listing the type of cheese (cow’s or goat’s milk; no sheep’s milk for this one). It also listed the farm or creamery that makes that cheese.
Chef Roxanne explained that the cheese samples were arranged in an order going from mildest to strongest (well, I think she did; the class was about three months ago after all). The mildest cheese was a creamy goat’s milk cheese from Sierra Nevada Cheese Company – something reminiscent of a cream cheese. The strongest cheese was a cow’s milk Bay Blue made by Pt. Reyes Farmstead Creamery. In between were a cow’s milk triple cream from Cowgirl Creamery, Mt. Tam; Toma – a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese from Pt. Reyes Farmstead Creamery; and a semi-hard goat’s milk cheese, Capra Stanislaus, from Nicolau Farms.
Just can’t get enough
With this array of cheeses (and crackers) before us and Chef Roxanne teaching us a little about cheese while also, at the same time, having us taste each cheese, it was a very satisfying experience. It was good to see Gabriel enjoying this experience class along with me.
All too soon, class was over – leaving us equipped with a better understanding of a small variety of cheeses and a satiating snack that only cost five dollars for each of us. It was, definitely, five dollars well spent.
So, despite the experiences at opposite ends of the spectrum, I do think I might be inclined to try both classes again next year. At the end of the day, it’s not too bad of a break during one’s hot summer day at the fair.
#kakainna #castatefair #socalval