20110329-serious-cheese-andante.jpg

Clockwise from left: Soyoung Scanlan herself; Cow's milk cheeses (Nocturne, Pianoforte, and Legato); Mixed cows' and goats' milk cheeses (Rondo, Metronome, and Melange).

Cheesemaker Soyoung Scanlan isn't just one of the most respected cheesemakers in America. She's become one of the most admired cheesemakers in France, too. Her cheeses are available at many of America's top restaurants and high-end retailers. She's aging traditional French-style cheeses that could compete with some of the best in France.

Not bad for a woman who started her Andante Dairy in Petaluma, California, only 12 years ago.

Her dairy is indeed named for the musical term, as are many of her cheeses. "Andante" is a reflection of the tempo of her cheesemaking and the harmonious flavors of her cheese. She makes a variety of soft cheeses including the sinfully creamy Largo, Piccolo, and Minuet: all three are rich and dense cheeses, especially nice with something bubbly. She blends cows' and goats' milk in cheeses like Metronome and the herbed Rondo, which are ideal for any of the new wave of Chablis. She also makes a wide variety of goats' milk cheeses. Softer ones like Contralto are delicate and herbal, while Etude is firmer, and gently sweet.

Unlike many cheesemakers, Scanlan didn't grow up as a curd nerd. She was actually a biochemist first, then a dairy scientist. It was on a trip to France when she became hooked. "I was fascinated. So many different cheeses and all from the same four ingredients."

Scanlan was dissatisfied with her job as a scientist. "I wanted to do something more hands-on and involving food," she said. She launched her dairy in 1999. It wasn't long before she was selling her cheese to leading restaurants and at nearby farmers' markets. From there she took it up a notch and began tailoring certain cheeses for specific restaurant menus.

Scanlan traveled to France annually to continue her study of cheesemaking, which led to some of her most renowned cheeses. Ossau Iraty, Tomme De Savoie, and Beaufort, all of which are made in France and selected by Joseph Paccard, then aged by Scanlan in California. They're richer and fuller-tasting than many of the French cheeses you'll find in America.

Andante's cheeses aren't cheap, though. Scanlan explained that it costs a lot of money to set up a facility that will meet the FDA standards, plus she uses organic Jersey cow's milk from small herds (also not cheap). On top of that, most of her cheeses must be shipped overnight when delivered.

But, if you're looking for a special cheese, it's worth the splurge. They're delicate in unusual ways and harmonize with a wide variety of beverages, and life in general.

About the author: Martin Johnson runs The Joy of Cheese, a series of informal cheese tastings that take place at four New York City bars and the 92nd Street Y. He has worked in and around cheese for 26 years, and he spends his weekend afternoons and evenings on the counter of the Bedford Cheese Shop in Brooklyn. He blogs at thejoyofcheese.wordpress.com

Comments can take up to a minute to appear - please be patient!

Previewing your comment: