by Ian McNulty
“American cheese” has come a long way from the days when the term almost universally implied those individually-wrapped slices of lunchbox nostalgia. Richard Sutton should know. He’s the proprietor of St. James Cheese Co., and in August he served as an official judge at the American Cheese Society Conference, an annual event featuring some 1,800 varieties of cheese produced around the country, from the smallest artisan efforts to the big commercial cheese brands.
“Every year I get back (from the conference) and I’m like ‘go American cheese. That’s all I’m going to have in here now,’” Sutton says. “The trouble is they’ve only been making cheese for a few years. I can be an ambassador for new cheeses, but I have to have what people want too.”
To build some momentum behind fine American cheeses, St. James is holding a series of tasting and pairing events through October, which is American Cheese Month. These include “classes” (really, guided tastings and pairings) held at the cheese shop, a mini beer festival with American cheese and new local brews and a few off-site events.
The series begins this Wednesday, Oct. 3, with a class pairing American artisan cheeses and classic American cocktails. On Oct. 10, things get a little more regional with an event called “Cheeses of the American South,” featuring the latest offerings from Southern cheese makers paired with beers from NOLA Brewing, cocktails made with Old New Orleans Rum and wines from James Moises, a local physician who makes wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
The series continues Oct. 17 with a class devoted to cheeses that took home awards at the last American Cheese Society Conference, which Sutton, with his experience as a judge there, is in a unique position to discuss. These will be paired with wines. The three events above each begin at 7 p.m., cost $25 and require advance registration through St. James.
The series moves to Mid-City on Oct. 18, when St. James teams up with the wine shop Swirl for a pairing of American cheeses and American wines. This event begins at 6:30 p.m., costs $30 and requires reservations through Swirl.
On Oct. 23, St. James is hosting an event with St. Lawrence, a new tavern in the French Quarter where chef Caleb Cook will serve a five-course, cheese-themed dinner with beer pairings. Dinner costs $65, with reservations required through St. Lawrence.
And beer and cheese share the billing on Oct. 24, when St. James hosts seven microbrewers from around the region for a tasting and cheese pairing in the shop. This event will mark the debut of two up-and-coming brewers, Chafunkta Brewery of Mandeville and Gnarley Barley of Ponchatoula. NOLA Brewing, Bayou Teche Brewery, Crescent City Brewhouse, Tin Roof Brewing of Baton Rouge and the brewpub chain Gordon Biersch will be on hand also. This mini beer festival begins at 7 p.m. and costs $35. Again, preregistration is required through St. James.
St. James Cheese Co.
5004 Prytania St., 899-4737
3143 Ponce de Leon St., 304-0635
219 N. Peters St., 525-4111