Cheese Heaven at the Festival of Cheese

It IS possible to eat too much cheese. It can also be nearly impossible to stop, especially if you find yourself slogging through a crowd of cheese addicts grabbing to get their fix at The Festival of Cheese, the culminating event at the American Cheese Society Conference, held this year in Raleigh, North Carolina. 1,700 different cheeses were sent into the ACS for entry into their annual judging  competition, and after the prizes are awarded, all 1,700 are arranged in tiers on massive tables in a huge room. At the appointed hour, the doors open and the feeding frenzy begins.

Of course, This years Best in Show, “Flagsheep Reserve” from Beecher’s Creamery in Seattle, is the most sought after cheese in the room.  An aged cloth-wrapped cheddar made from cow and sheep’s milk, it has a chunky, dense, but buttery smooth texture and a flavor of cream and caramel, with an underlying earthiness.  Call it sweet and dirty. Adding to its appeal, almost no one had heard of it, let alone tasted it before.

Whereas I was delighted to try local favorites (and ribbon winners) such as Vermont Butter and Cheese “Coupole” (our friends at VB&CC won 12 ribbons!), Ruggle’s Hill “Greta’s Fair Haven”, Westfield Farm “Blue Bonnet”, a bigger thrill is in finding new extraordinary cheese. Among my favorites was a Tennessee beauty, Sequatchie Cove Creamery “Dancing Fern”.  Styled after a French Reblochon – that is to say it is soft ripened to a velvety smoothness with rich flavors of butter and sweet cream and a slight appealing funk – it was one of the most talked about cheeses at the conference. Also high on my list was a soft ripened and ashed cheese, Black Sheep, from Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery in Illinois, and Bonnie View Farm “Tanasi Tomme”, creamy and soft/dense, with a pleasing sweetness and goaty tart quick.

Almost three hours later, my plate was filled with rind scraps, my stomach was in open rebellion, and thoughts of how to avoid cheese for a week or two were paramount in my mind. Well, that won’t happen, but I’m looking forward to tracking down some of these beauties and sharing them with friends and guests at L’Espalier



A visit to Bully Boy Distillery

Members of the L’Espalier team recently enjoyed a visit to Bully Boy Distillery, owned and operated by brothers Will and Dave Willis.

Photos by Julian Landa

New England has a long history of artisan rum distilleries stemming back to colonial times and the triangular trade routes. By 1770, New Englanders were exporting 5 million gallons of rum, the most profitable and prolific export item. It has been estimated that there were over 150 rum distilleries in colonial New England. During prohibition, the last of these distilleries closed down, but the Willis family farmhouse basement was home to a significant collection of local artisan spirits.


Some 70 years later, this hidden vault was rediscovered on the farm, inspiring in the brothers the idea for a new distillery to carry on Boston’s tradition of small-batch distilling. Their childhood home and fourth-generation working family farm now also supplies much of the grain used in their products. A small batch distillery which produces noteworthy (and award winning) spirits and also grows its own organic grain speaks strongly to L’Espalier’s core beliefs in artisanal and New England ingredients, so a visit was destined to occur.


Bully Boy white rum, which exhibits wonderful caramel and butterscotch notes, is made from Blackstrap molasses from New Orleans rather than the Caribbean molasses used by its colonial predecessors. It is a smoother and more complex product than the rums of our forefathers, but the artisan and entrepreneurial spirit is the same.

For their upcoming aged rum, they are aging in 80% old bourbon barrels and 20% old wine barrels, and they are currently slow-aging their first batches of aged whiskey (a bourbon and rye blend) in new American oak barrels. Among many aspects of this small batch distillery, it was fascinating for us to experience firsthand the talent, care and passion of the Willis brothers. An informative, enjoyable as well as delicious trip.


Autumn in the Park
This drink is perfect as summer comes to a close or as you head into the fall and the days begin to cool off. Darjeeling Tea plays beautifully with the natural caramel and vanilla tones of the Bully Boy white rum. If you have it available, a second Flush Darjeeling is ideal, but you will find that any good quality Darjeeling will give you memorable results.

1 1/2 ounces Darjeeling infused Rum
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 ounce Falernum (I use Trader Tiki’s brand)
1 1/2 ounces apple cider
1/2 ounce ginger oolong simple syrup

Shake all ingredients with ice for 10 to 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Optionally garnish with a floated dried apple ring or a slice of candied ginger on the rim.

Darjeeling Infused Rum

1 liter Rum
3 tablespoons Darjeeling tea leaves, preferably a second flush

Place 1 liter of gin in non-reactive container. Add tea leaves. Taste periodically until desired strength is achieved. Probably around 2 hours. Strain multiple times through cheesecloth or coffee filters until no visible tea remains. Store at room temperature or chilled.

Oolong Tea and Ginger Simple Syrup

2 cups white sugar
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup chopped fresh sliced ginger
1 wedge lime
1 tablespoon Oolong tea leaves, preferably a smoky high oxidation Oolong

Place sugar and water into a saucepan. Stir sugar up from the bottom, squeeze in lime and add ginger. Place over medium-high flame and bring to a boil. Turn down to low and let simmer until a clear syrup is formed, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add tea leaves, stir and let sit until cool. May be left overnight at this stage. Strain well. Will keep for weeks if stored covered and refrigerated.