THE MOVEABLE MOUSE IS IN
“Pauline” Dispenses Cheese Therapy
BY LAURA NESS
Cheese makes people smile, literally,” says Teri Tith Concannon, co-founder of Cheese Therapy, the unique artisan cheese delivery company she operates with friend and co-founder Chef Denise Garcia. And those smiles aren’t just about the psychological connection to that oft-used phrase encouraging people to show their pearly whites for a photo.
“Milk is made from a protein called caseins, and those caseins have an endorphin-like effect on the brain when consumed. We just want to help people smile, one cheese at a time,” says Concannon. And they do, as their gaily colored cheese truck dispenses everything from complete meals in a box to cheese plates that pair with wines at East Bay wineries.
Cheese Therapy was born when Concannon, who lives in Livermore and whose husband, Tom, is one of the Concannons of local wine lore, teamed up with Chef Denise Garcia, who was working at Sanctuary Ultra Lounge in Livermore. With two small children in school, Garcia’s late-night food prep schedule had become untenable. Fantasizing about opening a traditional cheese shop, the two were unable to find the right setup.
One morning, after attending a paella party at the Concannon’s home catered by a food truck, Garcia woke up with the thought of going mobile. “It was literally an Aha! moment. Why not a food truck?”
Many factors came together, not the least of which was the Alameda County Health Department crackdown on wineries serving food of any kind without certified kitchens and licensed-food-handler permits. Most wineries don’t have commercial kitchens, so suddenly the customary cheese and crackers visitors expect in a tasting experience were taboo.
Teri and Denise hit on the idea of delivering a licensed cheese-dispensing operation to wineries. “Pauline,” their tricked out Mercedes Sprinter van, made its debut last August for the Comedy Uncorked event at Livermore Valley’s Retzlaff Vineyards and Estate Winery.
“We’re the perfect companion for vintners,” says Garcia. “We spend hours working on the right pairings. When our truck pulls into a winery, it’s self-contained and fully permitted. The winery doesn’t have to do anything put pour wine!”
Wanting to fully leverage their unique offering as a food truck, the pair looked for other venues only to discover that people who come to food-truck events are most often looking for a meal to eat on the spot. “They’re not looking for food to go,” says Concannon. “Plus, our concept of gourmet cheeses was pretty alien to them.”
Scrambling into action, Garcia donned her chef’s hat and began whipping up cheese-centric soups, marinated fresh veggies, and savory bread puddings. Their Plowman’s Lunch, modeled after those served at the great pubs of Europe, was a big hit. Similar to a picnic in a box, their Plowman’s features four artisan cheeses, a rustic bread roll from Grace Baking Company warmed in Pauline’s onboard oven, salumi, vegetables lightly tossed with Chef Denise’s secret dressing, hummus, and olives. Plenty to smile about.
SOME CHEESE THERAPY FAVORITES
Charmoix. Concannon loves the complex flavor of this raw cow milk cheese from Belgium, with its slightly yellow rind and sticky paste. It smells a bit like yeasty bread dough.
Ardrahan. Another sticky, stinky washed-rind cheese. It’s made with vegetarian rennet.
Concannon learned about Ardrahan in Ireland from an expert cheesemonger at the Dublin Sheridan’s cheese market. “I was so blown away by this cheese I emailed the cheesemaker and asked if I could visit the farm, but we were heading the other way on our itinerary. Now we follow each other on Twitter.”
Blu di Caravaggio, a Gorgonzola Dolce. Garcia says, “I discovered water buffalo milk while taking classes at the Cheese School of San Francisco. Out of these big girls with curly horns comes the sweetest floral milk, which translates into great cheese. Blues and Gorgonzolas can be strong, bitter, and difficult to warm up to. Not this one!”
Challerhocker. This dense, aged, thermalized cow milk cheese from Switzerland is one Concannon fell in love with during her professional cheesemonger course at the Cheese School of San Francisco.
Concannon is a fan of good old sharp Cheddar, which she says she was raised on and will always have a place for in her refrigerator.
Fleur Verte. This fresh goat cheese comes as a wheel covered with herbs and pink peppercorns. Garcia says inside it’s “like cake with the terroir of France.”