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NORWALK, Conn. -- Marking the 20 percent growth of its specialty cheese section in the past year, Stew Leonard's, based here, will be holding a "Celebration of Cheese" promotion throughout the month of March, including free specialty cheese-tasting events.
All three Stew Leonard's locations will host the sampling events, which are designed to help shoppers overcome their timidity at choosing specialty cheese. The events will be held every weekend in March, from 11 A.M. to 3 P.M.. They will feature cheeses from Ireland, the Netherlands, and New York State, among other regions.
"What is so interesting about specialty cheese is the story behind how it was made and where it came from," noted Larry Zimmerman, Stew Leonard's Yonkers store cheese buyer, "because cheese picks up the characteristics of the region, what is known as 'terroir.' The region's climate to the native grasses and wildflowers that the dairy animals grazed on, can be subtly detected in the flavor of the finished cheese."
"Like wine, there is a whole romance behind specialty cheeses, from how a cheese continues to age and ripen over time, to learning about the characteristics of the different cheese-making regions within a category," added Rich Falcone, Stew Leonard's Danbury store cheese buyer. "For example, how Gorgonzola from Italy differs from French Roquefort and English Stilton, even though they are all blue cheeses. This event will give customers an opportunity to taste cheeses from different regions and perhaps find some new favorites."
The retailer will also produce and hand out a consumer brochure containing cheese facts and tips for selecting, storing, and serving specialty cheeses, along with suggestions for cheese and wine pairings. Tips include:
--Buy cheese that has been cut from a wheel, not prepackaged;
--Serve cheese at room temperature for the best flavor and texture. Remove from the refrigerator an hour before serving.
--To arrange a cheese plate, choose three to four cheeses. Vary the cheeses by texture, as well as type of milk (cow, goat, and sheep). You can also serve different cheeses from the same country, so tasters can compare them.
Americans' consumption of cheese stands at 31 pounds annually, an increase of more than six pounds since 1990, the retailer said. Stew Leonard's said the new interest in cheese is due to the growing popularity of artisanal cheeses, and the easier availability of imported cheeses. Additionally, the company said, more people are also adopting the European custom of serving a cheese course after the main meal, but before a sweet dessert.
Stew Leonard's operates three stores in Norwalk and Danbury, Conn. and Yonkers, N.Y.