Well, dear reader, I have found my people. They are cheese people. Clark Norris, executive chef at Silver Lake Lodge and Corrine Cornet-Coniglio, have brought the art of handcrafted cheese to Deer Valley. And, considering I have the need to eat cheese nearly every night—sometimes as my meal—it stands to reason that I would find a certain connection with people who revel in the joy of cheese-making. Not to mention cheese-eating.
Imagine my delight when I was invited to a cheese tasting with this dairy-loving duo. And then, imagine the expression on my face when a plank of assorted cheese was set between us in a booth at Royal Street Café. Trust me when I tell you, we were the envy of every passer-by. (One skier stopped, tableside, and said, with some reverence in his voice, “Is that a thing you can order? Because I could just have that for every meal.”) Seriously, I could get used to this.
Over bite after bite of perfectly-aged and cured cheeses, we discussed the roaring success of the new-this-year Deer Valley Cheese program. The cheeses are not only served in all the restaurants, but they’re sold at the Deer Valley Grocery~Café.
“It’s all we can do to keep up with demand,” Clark admitted. “The other lodges are using Meadowlark a lot.” That would be the double-cream soft-ripened cow’s milk cheese. It’s in a white rind, and handmade in the Frence Moule a la louche tradition.
The name actually reflects the cheese’s origins. “There is always a meadowlark in the valleys of Heber and Midway, singing over the pastures as the cows graze,” he said. “This cheese is truly “terroir’—“
“Wait,” I interrupted. “Explain that term, please?”
“Terroir is the French tradition of making cheese from local cows eating local grasses,” Corrine said. “I’m very proud that we make Utah Terroir cheese, born right here.”
Corrine acquired an interest in learning the art of French cheese making as result of her former career selling cheese-making equipment. “I was traveling a lot in France and Germany,” she said. “And I just wanted to know how to do it.” Cue the career change, and she’s been making cheese for 10 years.
I deferred to the experts in choosing accompaniments for each cheese. Corrine steered me to the black walnut confit with the Blue Belle. “It’s aged over 60 days, “ she explained as she made the first cut into the new wheel. “The Blue has a mind of its own, so the first tasting is always a surprise.”
For the record, that surprise was totally pleasant. A fun fact: Every line in the blue cheese is the result of forty holes that are poked in each wheel to give the culture room to grow.
Next, we tasted some house-dried pears with the Meadowlark—firm, buttery and delicious. Then, the Moon Shadow. I can’t say, out loud, that I have a favorite among these cheeses, but this one comes awfully close. It’s ash-ripened, and while the goat’s milk is 100 percent local, the ashes are imported from France. “They are vegetable ashes from the vine leaves in the Loire Valley,” Corrine explained. I can’t stress enough how much this sort of detail makes my day. Eating a product that is hand-crafted with such care is a privilege—and it’s clear Corrine feels the same way about making it.
“I work at night when no one is here,” she explains. “Cheese doesn’t like to be stressed or rushed—me neither. And, it needs to age.”
We moved onto Provence Kid, the fresh goat cheese encrusted with Herbes de Provence. It is served in a bruschetta on the Royal Street Café menu (yum), and is the so good that if I were to be left, unattended, with a jar of this cheese, I would eat it directly out of the container in an embarrassingly brief timeframe.
Fair warning—Corrine and Clark rigidly adhere to the sanctity of the goat’s milk season. So, if you are having a hard time finding the goat’s milk cheeses in mid-February or early March, fear not—they will be back as soon as the milk supply is replenished. Trust me, it will be worth the wait.
In the meantime, pick up some of the Triple Truffle, a triple-cream Camembert-style Brie that is infused with black truffles from Umbria, Italy. Trust me, it’s not a bad way to pass the time. Creamy and earthy, it’s the kind of cheese that makes a person want to alternate bites with sips of wine.
We were all smiles at the table as we finished up our tasting—all of us noting that the experience had lifted our moods. “We don’t do this enough,” Corrine explained. “Sitting and tasting is a luxury.” And then, she said something that will now be my personal mantra:
“If you’re having a bad day, say, “Cheese.”
Well played, Corrine. Well played.