Did you know that "artisanal" refers to a cheese that's been made from the milk of a single herd? That it's useless to walk into a cheese shop and just ask for "tomme," because then you're asking for "from the land of"? That there's an underground American movement for unpasteurized milk?
Most people don't know these things, but Martin Johnson, one of the city's best and most experienced fromagers, does and is happy to teach you. When he's not working for the Bedford Cheese Shop in Williamsburg or writing about basketball for the New York Sun, he's conducting cheese tastings at 10 Degrees on St. Mark's Place. For $30, he'll take you and the rest of the group through about 12 excellent, hard-to-find cheeses of a certain type.
In March, it's cheese that goes with martinis. The theme came from an inadvertent challenge from Max McCalman, who said to Johnson one night, "You can't pair cheeses with vodka, can you?" Turns out you can. We tried a number of interesting, unusual hard cheeses, like Coolea, a gouda from County Cork, Ireland; Foja Di Noce, a Tuscan cheese that's rubbed in hazelnuts as it ripens; and Ouray, a wonderfully sharp, crumbly cow's milk cheese from Poughkeepsie. It's an entertaining way to develop your palette: As the tasting progresses, Johnson throws in "mystery cheeses" related to the rest of the bunch, then asks you to guess what country it's from and whether it's cow, goat, or sheep's milk. With the right crowd, the competition becomes amusingly cuttthroat.
To sign up for class, which is on Tuesday nights from 7 to 8:30, you need only email Martin Johnson at email@example.com. Schedules and themes - April is "All About Chevre," May is "Viva Italia," and June is "the Young Americans" - are posted on the Joy of Cheese blog and site.
Ascutney Mount, Foja di Noce, and Tomette Chevre
Mystery cheese #1! (An aged goat gouda.)
Lavort, Doddington, Lessino
Mystery Cheese #2! (Some kind of Roquefort.)
Ouray, Mimolette, Stanser Schafkase