For the very last research for my cheese book (to be published in October!) I recently spent a week in San Francisco. The Fancy Food Show combined with the crazy competition party that is the Cheesemonger Invitational made for a perfect occasion to catch the latest updates, and I truly met and ran into a staggering number of wonderful people. Amongst them, and entirely serendipitously, Soyoung Scanlan.
When we first met, 15 years ago on my very first cheese research trip, the then 35 years old Korean-American had recently moved into Laura Chenel’s old original premises, a small blue wooden bungalow in Santa Rosa, an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. She had trained as a microbiologist, but soon found working in a lab much too dry and „discovered cheese“. Consequently she went back to study dairy science (her thesis on high quality reduced fat cheese she recalls laughingly as „not exactly my most flavorful moment“). After initially guest-working at others creameries, at the point of my visit, she had built up and successfully established a one-woman-creamery in just two years, under the name Andante Dairy.
Since then she has moved several times, and at the present is sub-renting at the Volpi farm in Petaluma. Then as now she buys in freshly milked goat’s and cow’s milk of the highest quality and works it into mostly lactic and soft cheeses which are clearly modeled on French classics such as St Marcellin, Chaource, Pierre Robert or Banon. „I travel to France as often as possible,“ says the soft-spoken, dark-eyed woman, who is also an enthusiastic and highly talented pianist. „But I can’t compete with Europe’s best cheeses, that would only result in sad imitations. Here in America we don’t have a lot of tradition, and therefore we have to create our own expression of this „terroir“, first loaning European traditions, then integrating them and making our own ones.“ Cheeses such as the small round goat’s milk A Capella show how she manages to actually implement this philosophy (all her cheeses are named after something music-related). With its very fine-grained, almost silken texture it starts very quietly, but builds up to a tightly woven crescendo – its discreet expressiveness stays with me for days after each one of our much too rare encounters. „Well-made cheese does not shout, but it has a distinctive voice of its own,“ Soyoung Scanlan says.
In San Francisco a new voice was waiting for me. Duet felt like a poem which stays with you and inspires you for a long time after you first read or heard it. „I wanted to capture my garden in summer, when the air is like caffeine. So I infuse part of the (goat’s) milk with fresh thyme,“ she explained while providing other cheese lovers with tastes of the rectangular beauty on small paper slips: „As in a good duet you can’t really tell which part is whose.“ Soyoung Scanlan has always been quiet, sometimes almost dreamy, and with time she seems to be ever more serene, almost floating, just like her cheeses melt on the palate, seem to be all sound, almost immaterial.
In San Francisco you can find the Andante Dairy cheese at Cheese Plus and at the Rainbow Grocery – listen!