World-class cheese expert shares her knowledge in New Orleans


Liz Thorpe called to talk about her new book from her hotel room in Venice. She spent a week in the medieval Italian town of Bra for the 11th annual Slow Food’s Cheese event, in which the streets are lined with tents of cheesemakers from all over the world. More than 300,000 Italians and tourists attended the three-day cheese-tasting extravaganza.

“I bought a bunch of French cheese,” Thorpe confesses, “the raw milk ones I can’t get at home.”

Home is the Irish Channel in New Orleans, which means the launch party for Thorpe’s book, and the classes and events linked to it, are happening in the area in October and November. Lucky us.

Thorpe is a world-class cheese expert. If you ever thought you’d like to learn more about this favorite food, now is the time.

“The Book of Cheese: The Essential Guide to Discovering Cheeses You’ll Love” (2017, $40, Flatiron Press) is Thorpe’s answer to the questions she has gotten at cocktail parties and in emails for the last 15 years. After earning degrees in art history and American studies at Yale, Thorpe didn’t know what she wanted to do next.

After a few years in a cubicle, she decided to pursue her passion: cheese.

How does milk turn into such a huge variety of food, she wondered? She spent 10 years finding out at Murray’s Cheese in New York, developing their online and restaurant menu programs. Then, she founded The People’s Cheese, a consulting company. Her work, and interviews with her, have been in everything from “The New York Times” to “Men’s Journal” to “The Oprah Magazine” and NPR and “The Today Show,” to name just a few.

In 2013, she started writing this book. And three years ago, she moved from New York to New Orleans, so her husband could start a business.

“My mother-in-law grew up in New Orleans….My brother-in-law now lives here, too. My mother-in-law married a Yankee, and now her sons have come back,” Thorpe said. The couple have two young children.

Long before she moved here, Thorpe knew Richard and Danielle Sutton of St. James Cheese Co., which she calls one of the best cheese shops in the country. 

The launch party for her new book will be at the St. James Cheese’s Warehouse District location, in concert with Octavia Books, and she will teach three classes pulled from chapters in her book.

This is not a cookbook, nor a book about cheese pairings or making a cheese plate.

“I really wanted to write a book that was responsible to people’s reactions when I worked in cheese,” Thorpe said. “People would say, ‘I love cheese, but there are so many cheeses I don’t know where to start.'”

They don’t want to spend money and be disappointed, she said. Thorpe learned to say, “What do you like? If you like that, you ought to try this.”

The book is divided into what she calls “gateway” cheeses, based on nine cheeses most people already know: Cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, blue and so on. If you like Havarti, for example, she goes through the Havarti types and what they are. She talks about washed curd cheeses, and what that means in the cheese making process. She delineates cheeses that are like Havarti: Monterey Jack, Colby, Toma, Pata Cabra, Ashbrook, Kinsman Ridge and a dozen more, each profiled briefly.

Charts rank the cheeses from mild to intense, from widely available to specialty.

Thorpe is particularly good at summation. Havarti texture in one word: Pillow. One of the intense cheeses in this chapter, Casatica di Bufala, made in Italy of buffalo milk, she dubs “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Over the years she spent writing, Thorpe learned a lot through extensive tastings, she said. For one thing, she realized there is a lot more flexibility, more variety of cheeses to recommend.

“If there’s a cheese you really like, there are multiple other cheeses that will scratch that itch,” she said. “I used to be hung up on this one thing, very specific.”

Besides St. James Cheese Co., the greater New Orleans area has several places with good cheese selections that Thorpe recommends.

Last Mardi Gras, she and her family vacationed on the North Shore and she discovered Acquistapace’s, where she had a great shopping experience.

Martin Wine Cellar, where a couple of her book events will be, does a very good job with cheese and in particular has an excellent selection of American artisanal cheeses, Thorpe said.

And she wanted to give a shout out to Simone’s Market on Oak Street, “another small specialty store with a higher level of knowledge and service.”

Thorpe used Whole Foods for her accessibility charts in each chapter because the grocery chain has “made many cheeses in the mid-range accessible.” And last Christmas, she wrote an article about creating a cheese board for less than $20 at Trader Joe’s. They don’t have the broadest cheese selection, Thorpe said, but what they do have is done “incredibly well, and what you find is very affordable.”

In general, Thorpe says, people overestimate how expensive cheese is.

“When you walk into a cheese store, they price cheese by the pound. It’s $25 or $30, but that’s one pound, enough cheese to feed 16 people. Most of the time, you’re buying for four,” she said. “In the supermarket, cut and already wrapped pieces (sell) for $6 to $8.”

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Although “The Book of Cheese” is a guidebook, not a cookbook, Thorpe shares her versions of a few irresistible classic dishes. One is fondue.

“The classic blend in Gruyere is 50 percent Gruyere and 50 percent Vacherin Fribourg; here you’re likely to be recommended Gruyere, Emmentaler and Appenzeller (the latter two because they’re cheaper),” Thorpe writes. “Don’t favor your wallet over your belly. Buy some better cheese. I also love GrandCru Surchoix, Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Scharfe Maxx as possibilities.”

Do the ‘Due
Makes 4 servings

1 pound Alpine (style) cheese, (see specifics in note above), grated

1 garlic clove, halved

1 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Dippers: Crusty bread, apples, crisp pears, broccoli and cauliflower

Rub a fondue pot down with garlic; a double boiler works best as cheese won’t get too hot. Add white wine and heat over medium-high heat.

While wine heats, toss grated cheese with cornstarch. Add cheese to pot a handful at a time, keeping heat below a simmer. Stir until melted and glossy. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer to a fondue pot to keep cheese warm while eating. Dip bread, fruit and veggies.

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“Never again shall you suffer through a greasy grilled cheese sandwich made with Cheddar. The secret is that the perfect grilled cheese cheeses come from the approachable end of Havarti types’ flavor spectrum,” Thorpe writes. “Expect a flowing river of milky, sweet, tangy cheese that can be improved only with bacon (if you eat pork) and tomatoes (in season).”

2-2-2 Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Makes 1

2 slices white bread (don’t try to health it up with multigrain)

2 tablespoons butter

2 ounces Havarti, Monterey Jack or red wax Gouda (wax removed), cut into thin rectangles

Optional: 2 slices good bacon, cooked

2 slices tomato (May through September only, depending on your location), if desired

Butter one side of each slice of bread with 1/2 tablespoon butter. Layer cheese on one unbuttered side. Add bacon and tomatoes, if desired. If so, ideally layer cheese, then bacon/tomato, then cheese. Top with remaining slice of bread, butter side up.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in cast iron frying pan over medium heat. Place sandwich in pan. Cover with saucepan lid. Cook for 2 minutes. Don’t move it around.

Flip sandwich over. Cover with saucepan lid. Cook for 2 minutes. Don’t move it around. Remove. Cut in half, devour.

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  • In each chapter, Thorpe includes pairings of cheese with all types of foods and why they work. Her versions of Devils on Horseback, small savory appetizers usually made with bacon and dates, are well worth retaining.

    From the blue cheeses chapter: Pit a dried Medjool date and stuff with blue cheese. Wrap in a 1/2 slice of thick bacon and secure with toothpick. Cook 5 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees for “a sweet, salty, smoky and compulsively edible treat.”

  • From the Taleggio types chapter: Slice a dried apricot in half and smear it with a mellow Taleggio type cheese. Toothpick it closed. Wrap in a slice of sweet cured pork like prosciutto or speck, if desired (bacon is too overwhelming). Cook 5 minutes at 400 degrees in the toaster oven, until meat is crisped and cheese is runny.

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For information about columnist Judy Walker’s new E-cookbook of favorite Louisiana recipes from her “In Judy’s Kitchen” features and videos, send an email to her: [email protected].

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“The Book of Cheese” New Orleans area events

Oct. 1, 5-7 p.m. — Cheese and wine party, book signing and guided tasting from 5:30-6 p.m.
Where: St. James Cheese Co. Warehouse District, 641 Tchoupitoulas St.
Tickets: $40 per person, includes a copy of “The Book of Cheese” (must be purchased through Octavia Books) Visit octaviabooks.com/event/liz-thorpe-book-cheese

Oct. 5, 7-8:30 p.m. — Gateway to Great Cheese, Part I: In this Cheese 101 Thorpe leads a tasting of multiple cheeses from the Brie, Cheddar and Havarti Gateways. Wine and accompaniments provided.
Where: St. James Cheese Co. Uptown, 5004 Prytania St.
Tickets: $58 includes a copy of “The Book of Cheese”; $33 class only. Visit stjamescheese.com/pages/detail/261/events

Oct. 8, 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. — Cheese Boot Camp with a tasting of 18-20 cheeses plus wine and accompaniments; includes lunch.
Where: St. James Cheese Company Warehouse District, 641 Tchoupitoulas St.
Tickets: $75 (includes a copy of “The Book of Cheese.”) Visit stjamescheese.com/pages/detail/261/events

Oct. 25, 7-8:30 p.m.– Gateway to Great Cheese, Part II: In this Cheese 101, Thorpe leads a tasting of multiple cheeses from the Mozzarella, Taleggio and Swiss Gateways. Wine and accompaniments provided.
Where: St. James Cheese Co. Uptown, 5004 Prytania Street
Tickets: $58 includes a copy of “The Book of Cheese”; $33 class only. Visit stjamescheese.com/pages/detail/261/events

Oct. 26, 6:30-8 p.m. — Cheese and Wine 101: Thorpe leads a tasting of 6 cheeses paired with 6 wines, and answers all frequently asked questions about cheese.
Where: Martin Wine Cellar Metairie, 714 Elmeer Ave. Visit martinwine.com/calendar

Nov. 1, 7-8:30 p.m. — Gateway to Great Cheese, Part III: In this Cheese 101 Thorpe leads a tasting of multiple cheeses from the Manchego, Parmesan and Blue Gateways. Wine and accompaniments provided.
Where: St. James Cheese Co. Uptown, 5004 Prytania St.
Tickets: $58 includes a copy of “The Book of Cheese”; $33 class only. Visit stjamescheese.com/pages/detail/261/events

Nov. 10, 6:30-8 p.m.– Cheese and Beer 101: Thorpe leads a tasting of 6 cheeses paired with 6 wines, and answers frequently asked questions about cheese.
Where: Martin Wine Cellar Mandeville, 2895 U.S. 190. Village Shopping Center, Mandeville. Visit martinwine.com/calendar



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