Say Cheese

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By Betty Shimabukuro

KENT TORREY GRADUATED FROM PUNAHOU SCHOOL IN 1979, sang in the choir and worked at Baskin-Robbins; all attributes he shares with the current president of the United States. “Barry” has his thing-that leader-of-the-free-world gig-and Torrey has his, which is cheese.

Torrey is the self-proclaimed CEO (Cheese Eating Oenophile) and Grand Fromage of The Cheese Shop, a gourmet wine and food store in Carmel, Calif. As seemingly dedicated as “the big cheese” himself, Torrey’s parents encouraged the development of an international, cosmopolitan palate. They traveled abroad and welcomed families from other countries to stay with them in Hawai’i. “We were eating and drinking, and learning about food and drink, and hearing different languages,” he recalls, sharing that his early passion for wine emerged during university in the burgeoning wine region of Washington State. His migration to Monterey, Calif., led him to the Cheese Shop.

“At our store, everybody learns everything,” he says, explaining how he became so well-schooled in both wine and cheese.

Hence, Torrey’s passion for quality product makes him the perfect person to ask for some recommendations on cheeses that could be incorporated into an island cheese party.

To narrow the field, Torrey made a few picks from each of the “three classic milks”-cow, sheep and goat. “They’re distinctive and they’re all beautiful,” he says. His suggestions:

Cow’s Milk:

Sartori asiago, a Wisconsin cheese rubbed with basil and olive oil. “This instantly makes me think of pasta,” Torrey says, specifically pasta with Portuguese sausage and basil, sprinkled liberally with this cheese. Or it could go into an island-style risotto made with plain white rice.

The 4-year-old Dutch mahogany-hued gouda called Noord Hollander carries an effervescent, malted caramel flavor profile. Torrey swears that the gourmand would find this cheese suits well with a single malt Scotch whisky. It may be eaten alone, or grated over a quesadilla or burrito.

His final cow pick is a stunning Piave Vecchio from Italy which, Torrey swears emphatically, reminds him of home.

“If you smell and taste this cheese and don’t sense the sweet, lemony-pineapple finish, you need to check your palate,” he says with a chuckle. Similar in hardness to Parmesan, Torrey touts its diversity: You can grate it over a pasta salad, eat it dry or make Parmesan-like baked crisps. The Vecchio pairs splendidly with a Spanish cava called Torre Oria Brut that made headlines in the wine world in 2010.

Sheep’s Milk:

Torrey describes Ewephoria gouda from the Netherlands, a sweet, fairly young cheese. A lighter style of gouda (pronounced HOW-da, by the way, not GOO-da) perfect eaten straight and unadorned. “Give me a hunk of this cheese and a bottle of wine and my lady, and I’m a happy camper.”

Torrey is ecstatic about his latest find: The Sardinian Moliterno sheeps milk cheese with long veins of truffles running through it. Where other cheeses may flaunt truffle shavings, the veins that run through this selection mean business.

Goat’s Milk:

Surfing Goat Dairy, a Hawai’i pick. Maui’s Surfing Goat, owned by Thomas and Eva Kafsack, produces goat cheese in many varieties, but Torrey singles out the plain version. Compared to goat cheese from other locales, he says, Surfing Goat’s “has a flavor profile that seems sweeter and has less acidity. It’s the creativeness of the producers.”

A second goat-Cyprus Grove Dairy’s Purple Haze, from California-is an incredibly fresh cheese made with lavender and fennel. Torrey spotlights that it could work well in a morning omelet, or with stronger spirits like a dry martini.

All the above cheeses are available throughout Hawai’i. Torrey’s Cheese Shop ships its entire catalog; including a “Cheese of the Month” club that gets a full pound (three different cheeses) every month to your front door, a day after it leaves his shop.

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