I had a little time to kill so I decided to eat some cheese. I went to see Brenton Vasconcellos at the 5 Walnut Wine Bar’s Cheese Shop — because he’s a super nice guy, who is super enthused about cheese — and, as it turns out, I happen to be in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time…
Right place. Right time. “Fuck, yes!” I enthused right back at him, and good ol’ Brenton commenced to put together a lerverly board of local cheeses for me to try, made-up of the ends, asses, and left-over bits of awesome, not large enough to sell on their own, but too precious to discard. I think we’re all familiar with this concept from the local grocery stores, who do the same thing with their “ends” of cheese. I personally love trying a bunch of different tiny cheese pieces, with crackers and condiments, and I enjoyed Brenton’s Mystery Board very much!
Brenton is a student of cheese, and a budding aficionado, who can talk about cheese in general, or specific cheeses & cheese-makers, with a depth of knowledge and level of excitement that is always engaging and educational, as well as delicious! Ever since the Cheese Shop at 5 Walnut opened, Brenton has truly immersed himself in the world of local, regional, and international cheese, and he had absolutely no problem rattling off the names and characteristics of the various samples on my mystery plate. He kindly offered to write down the names and makers in my notebook while I stuffed myself with the following cheese.
Add a ramekin of pickles from Green River Pickles, and that’s a good time, Yo! True story. I actually had fun putting cheese, bread, and pickles in my face, while chatting with Brenton on the subject. I devoured the whole mystery plate by myself, and was quite full by the end. All of it was delicious. None of it… however… is my Eat of the Week. What?!? Nope, that honor belongs to this little ol’ thing…
Being too lazy to get up off my ass and look for myself, I asked Benton, “Are all of your cheeses local?” “No!” he replied, and as we glanced at the case together, I did indeed see that several clear signs plainly indicated where all of the cheeses come from, including places like Spain, France, Italy, and Norway. One caught my eye in particular, because of the bright red, very commercial-looking package, the perfect cube shape, and the fun name. “What’s up with this Ski Queen cheese?” I inquired of Benton.
“Oh, that’s not technically cheese, because it’s made from whey, not curds,” he said (I paraphrase, of course) and then he went on to explain to me that cheese making involves separating the curds from the whey, using the curds for cheese, and the whey for … other things… including ricotta “cheese,” dog food, lemonade, and this bizarre Ski Queen stuff, which Benton himself happens to be a huge fan of. He couldn’t wait for me to try it, and was very quick to open one up and offer me a sample. Guess what? It was really fucking good.
Now, I have to say that the manufacturer, Tine, uses the word “cheese” all over their web site to describe their product over and over again, so Brenton will have to take that up with them. According to their “About Us” page…
“It was customary throughout Norway to boil whey into “prim”: A soft, sweet, brown cheese. Anne Hov, a farmer’s wife, was the first person to think of pouring cream into the kettle of prim. Her ‘fat cheese’ got a higher price than her prim and butter, and she is reputed to have saved the Gudbrandsdal valley from financial ruin in the 1880’s.”
Yay, Gudbrandsdal valley! I love your… legendary… drainage systems? Wiki was a little thin on fun facts about Gudbrandsdal valley, but if nothing else we can thank Ms. Hov of said vale for inventing this wonderful cheese… adjacent… product that is definitely one of the most unique, intriguing, and delicious things I’ve eaten lately, much deserved of the praise the Brenton gave it and that I am giving it here.
Flavorwise, it is sweet, and slightly sour, with hints of caramel, and to me it has a slight note of smoke, without being “smoky.” It is, essentially, caramelized whey, so it has been over-cooked, and thus burnt, sort of, so maybe that accounts for the smoke I’m detecting. In any case, the flavor is very singular, and while at first it did cloy at my palate, at the same time it was very seductive, and beckoned my taste buds to wake-up and analyze the strange and wonderful, almost smothering, flavor that was coating my entire mouth. I couldn’t figure out exactly why, but after the small piece that Benton gave me, I was absolutely convinced that I needed my own fucking cube. There was, maybe, a five second delay between trying it and buying it. For one thing, I could not fucking wait to get it home, and put it on a hamburger. “WTF, Yo?!? That shit is gonna be the fucking bomb, I just know it,” I thought to myself, or maybe said out loud, because I remember that Brenton agreed.
Later that night, I bought some fatty ground beef at the grocery store, and some soft “brioche” buns. That’s the blank slate to me: Meat and bun, the combined basics with which this Scandinavian oddity would be paired, and judged next to, in my home-cooking taste test.
I formed a meat patty, fried it in butter, flipped it, cheesed it, fried it some more, and placed in on the bun. To it I added no garnishes, only the basic condiments of mustard and ketchup, and not much of those. This was not the time to go cray-cray with arugula, kimchi, and a hot pickle, or any other distractions. This cheeseburger was all about the cheese… even if it may not have technically been cheese.
Cheese or not cheese, with a consistency that hovers somewhere between VelVeeta and plastique, I was absolutely sure in my heart, mind, and imagination that a thick slice of this strange Norwegian whey shit would melt per-fect-fucking-ly on a hot, fresh, hamburger patty, and that the oddly attractive, almost overbearingly sweet, caramelized flavor would work like yin-on-yang with the savory flavor of seared meat.
I knew it… and I was absolutely right… it was fucking perfect… I made and ate another one almost immediately… and now I wanna try Ski Queen on, in, and with other things… everything… hot apple pie… mac ‘n’ cheese… fried chicken sammich… chocolate… hot brown… holy fuck, visions of future Ski Queen hot brown are enough right there for me to give this improbable orangey-brownish-yellow cube of weird ‘wegian whey the highest of high honors: It is, without a doubt, my…
5 Walnut Cheese Shop
“Warm brick-walled hangout with wine tastings, locally sourced nibbles & craft beer, plus live music.”
Address: 5 W Walnut St, Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 253-2593
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.
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