As a high-schooler bound for a summer home-stay in Paris, I received a bundle of brochures covering how not to offend my hosts. Young Americans would do fine in France, the materials counseled, so long as they were willing to eat lots of cheese.
The brochures explained that every French family kept a cheeseboard, a very exotic-sounding contraption in the years before Williams-Sonoma was a shopping-mall fixture. The cheeseboard, stocked with an assortment of ripe, runny cheeses, would emerge every night after dinner.
My host family had a cheeseboard, but didn't put any Bries or Camemberts on it. Instead, under the bell-shaped cloche, was a pile of individually plastic-wrapped slices of American cheese. I initially thought Henri was trying to make me feel comfortable, but later learned the family worshipped all American products--including Kraft singles.
In the intervening two decades, American cheese has evolved dramatically. More than 1600 American artisan cheeses were entered in the most recent edition of the American Cheese Society competition, an achievement select cheesemongers plan to salute in October with the first-ever American Cheese Month.
"It's not orange slices anymore," says The Calf & Kid's Shari LaVigne. "We have as much cheese diversity as any Western European cheese-making country."
To mark American Cheese Month, a dozen cheese shops in Seattle and New York City will be selling deeply discounted domestic cheeses to customers who purchase a $10 passport. The event was dreamt up by Beecher's Handmade Cheese's Kurt Dammeier (which accounts for the narrow geographic representation) as a fund-raiser for the new American Cheese Education Foundation.
In Seattle, Beecher's and The Calf & Kid will be showcasing a different American cheese every day in October. Passport holders can purchase the cheese for 40 percent off the retail price.
LaVigne says the event should help expose customers to great cheeses from across the country. While local cheese lovers may be familiar with Pacific Northwest cheeses, they may not have tried cheeses from Utah and southern California.
"It should be pretty fun," LaVigne says. "There are so many awesome cheeses."