Laura Werlin, James Beard award-winning author is our Chef of the Month for June!
June 6, 2017
Photo Credit: Maren Caruso
The New American Cheese
The All American Cheese and Wine Book (James Beard Award-Winner)
Great Grilled Cheese
Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials
Grilled Cheese, Please!
Mac & Cheese, Please!
What inspired you become a cookbook author?
Actually, I never intended to be a cookbook author. Instead, I was inspired to write a “look at what’s happening with American cheese, folks!” book about cheesemakers and cheese. I loved cheese more than any other food, and because of that, American cheesemakers were my heroes. I wanted to memorialize them in book form. However,
I soon figured out that for Americans to become more interested in the artisan cheeses
I wanted to write about, they would also need to go beyond reading about it and learn how to cook with it. Although I’d never written a recipe in my life, I somehow came up with 80 of them for what would become my first book, The New American Cheese.
What are your hobbies outside of the kitchen?
I am an avid outdoors person, which means hiking and/or running are big parts of my everyday life (and necessary to balancing my job of eating a lot of cheese!). I also love the arts – theater, dance, fine art, and music – so I can often be found at performances and museums. In addition, because my background is in TV news, I was and remain an unabashed news junkie. Travel too is a big love even though I don’t do it nearly often enough. Oh, and did I mention I like to eat cheese wherever I go?
Everyone remembers their first encounter with burrata. What is yours?
What is yours? My first encounter with burrata was in Wisconsin, where I was able to watch a demonstration of the luscious cheese being made. The demonstration was followed by the opportunity to taste the just-made cheese, and it was a textural and flavor sensation I will never forget. The delicate mozzarella “skin” barely holding the cream inside was slightly chewy and the cream was rich and completely mouth filling. All in one bite? All I remember thinking was “wow, wow, wow.” I still think that every time I taste burrata.
If you could make dinner for one person, who would it be?
Well, I can tell you it certainly would not be a famous chef! Even though it would be exciting, I would be too intimidated. Say what you will, but I have been lucky enough to hear Starbucks founder Howard Schultz speak a few times along with his wife, Sheri. Talk about inspiring. Wow. Both of them are dedicated to the well-being of individuals as well as society and are working tirelessly in the service of both. Plus, the fact Starbucks employees get benefits, not to mention opportunities to advance in all kinds of ways, means that our society as a whole has the opportunity to benefit. For these and a whole lot of other reasons, I would be beyond thrilled to cook for the Schultzes. I’d let them bring the coffee for dessert, though.
What is your favorite dish to cook and why?
This is a tough one, but I think back to the time I lived in the agricultural town of Bakersfield. My first weekend there, I went to a you-pick farm and bought my first-ever flat of blackberries. The farmer/owner suggested I make a cobbler with them – something I had never made at that point in my life. I took his lead, combined the blackberries with some of his peaches, and made the best blackberry-peach cobbler I’d ever eaten. I don’t know if it’s the memory of that cobbler or the fact it’s really good; all I know is that I’ve been happily making that ever since.
On par with (okay, slightly above) my love for cobbler baking is unquestionably grilled cheese. That’s why I wrote not one but two books about it. What can I say? NOTHING beats gooey, melted cheese. Think about it: when you melt a cheese like, say, burrata, that’s both gooey and creamy in between two buttery, crisp slices of bread? I mean, who needs anything else?
What has been your greatest accomplishment?
That’s a tough one! I don’t know if it’s an accomplishment, but the thing I’m most proud of is being part of the early movement to bring attention to American artisan cheese and cheesemakers and to become a cheese educator at a time when few existed. I’m thrilled by how far our culture has come in understanding and appreciating cheese since then!
If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
I’d tell myself to be fearless. There’s no point in playing it safe at a young age (within reason, of course!). There’s so little to lose. Instead, I’d say go for it, whatever the “it” is at the time, and not worry too much about consequences. Life is long and it doesn’t have to be lived in one job, one home, one city forever. Luckily, I learned that pretty early, but I would have been happy to start on that fearless track a bit sooner!
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