Some of you may have already had the good fortune of meeting Jess McLendon, our resident cheesemonger here at Stone Hollow. For those who’ve not been in The Pantry lately, or seen her demo some of our favorite cheeses at Saturday’s Pepper Place Market, her face is still probably familiar. Before we got lucky enough to hire her, Jess could be found at Whole Foods Market – Mountain Brook in the Specialty department. Naturally curious and a quick study, Jess rose from making meals at the in-house WFM Brasserie to becoming a Certified Cheese Professional (CCP) with the American Cheese Society (ACS), all while attending University of Alabama – Birmingham to complete her Biology degree. Her tenure at Whole Foods Market exposed her to a whole world of cheeses and served as the perfect introduction to Deborah Stone and Stone Hollow. Aside from being excited to work for a small, woman-owned farmstead business, Jess is looking forward to creating some magnificent cheese boards for the holidays and beyond. Take a minute to get to know Jess -- we think you’ll love her as much as we do.
SHF: How long have you been at The Pantry?
Jess: Just over six weeks. But I am so very happy to be here.
SHF: How do you think your degree in Biology adds to your career as a cheesemonger?
Jess: Cheese is alive! And its full of bacteria and fungus. It makes the whole process more interesting to me because I know how organisms and ecosystems work. Cheese is science as well as an art.
SHF: Tell us about the Cheese Board Program here at SHF. What are your plans?
Jess: As you probably know, SHF won second place for our goat-milk feta this July. The cheese board that I think will be the most interesting will be our ACS Winners Board. This will feature a variety of first- and second-place winners from this year’s American Cheese Society awards – whatever we can get our hands on that makes sense to include.
SHF: Do customers need to bring in their own boards?
Jess: We have many here to choose from that people can rent but if they want to bring in one of their own, that is great too.
SHF: What are some perfect non-cheese accompaniments for one of these boards?
Jess: All of our pickles – the green beans, the asparagus, the okra, the Romanesco – all of them! I really love the Tomato-Vanilla jam too. It goes perfectly with chevre.
SHF: What is your personal favorite type of cheese?
Jess: An ooey-gooey washed rind cheese or something wrapped in spruce – like the one that will be on the ACS Winners board here at SHF. We’ll have the French-style Jasper Hill Harbison spruce-wrapped soft-ripened cheese. Spruce has a flavor of its own and is its own little microbiome.
SHF: Do you have a secret cheesemonger tip?
Jess: If your fondue breaks (comes apart), add a slice of American cheese and it will come back together.
SHF: What is your favorite thing to do on your days off?
Jess: Go to the dog park and walk my dog. She’s just a cute little squirrel-getter.
SHF: What is your favorite bar or restaurant to visit on a day off?
Jess: Chez Lulu, hands-down. I like their soup and salad combo.
Pasta Recipe for Two
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp white wine
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
¼ c rustic chopped zucchini or squash
¼ c sliced button mushrooms
2 cloves smashed, peeled, and chopped garlic
Handful of fresh spinach
3 fresh basil leaves, chopped (or chiffonade if you want to get fancy)
Fresh pasta, cut however you’d like – 8 oz
I enjoy fresh gnocchi – no preboil needed for this style.
Pappardelle works wonderfully also, but any style cut will do.
1.5-2 oz SHF chevre
Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)
1. Prepare your pasta and sauté your veggies. In a sauté pan, add the olive oil and butter. Once the butter melts, add the chopped garlic, zucchini, and mushrooms. Once the mushrooms begin to water off, add the white wine and few turns of fresh cracked pepper. Sauté until tender, add more wine as needed to deglaze the pan. In a saucepot, boil 1 qt salted water. Once a rolling boil is reached, add your pasta.
2. Once the pasta floats, remove it with tongs and add to the pan of sautéed veggies. **Do not drain completely, as a touch of starchy pasta water is necessary as a thickener. Add the pasta, spinach, basil, a splash of white wine, a pinch of salt, and more pepper to the sautéed veggies. Toss until spinach begins to wilt, add chèvre, and toss a bit more. The chèvre should melt as it is tossed. Try not to overcook the spinach.
3. Remove from heat source and plate.
4. Top with fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano and more black pepper to taste.
Roast Beef Sandwich with Sautéed Onions, Chevre, and Red Wine For Two
1 tsp olive oil
¼ c beef stock
¼ c dry red wine
Cracked black pepper
8 oz sliced roast beef, medium thickness
½ a red onion, sliced ¼ inch thick
2 oz SHF chevre
2 handfuls arugula
2 small ciabatta loaves, halved lengthwise
1. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the onions when hot.
2. When the onions start to soften, add ½ the beef stock, ½ the red wine, a pinch of salt, and a few turns of your black pepper grinder. Deglaze the pan as needed with wine or stock.
3. Add the roast beef and remaining stock and wine. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half, tossing frequently.
4. Add the chèvre and another turn of black pepper and toss until it melts into the sauce. Remove from heat.
5. Top the opened ciabatta with the mixture in the pan and a tight handful of arugula.
6. Serve with a knife and fork!