Episode 127: Cheese Chat with Janet Fletcher

Episode 127: Planet Cheese With Janet Fletcher

Author and Cheese Expert, Janet Fletcher, joins the ladies for a most delightful and drool-worthy afternoon of cheese chatter. We’ve decided Janet is a true cheese goddess, and we think you’ll find her just as enchanting as she enlightens us on so many aspects of wine’s favorite sidekick. Grab your favorite beverage, and perhaps a wedge of something new, and explore the wonderful world of cheese along with us! (Prerecorded in August 2017.)


While Steph is checking out the Czech Republic we’re going to take a side trip to Planet Cheese and have a little “cheddar chatter” with Janet Fletcher, Author and Cheese Aficionado.  But first … we drink!

In Our Glasses

Val: “This is one of the ‘bucket list’ whiskeys I’ve been trying to get my mitts on for over a year. Come to mama, Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition, ($66) What does all that mean on a bottle of whiskey? This is a joint effort by the Middleton distillers (who also bring you Jameson, and that lovely Yellow Spot I raved about earlier this year) and Bodegas Lustau sherry producers in Spain. What we have here is a single pot still whiskey, not only aged in regular bourbon and sherry casks for between 9 – 12 years, but then is treated to Oloroso sherry-seasoned barrels for another year.

“We also talked about this with Suzanne Redmond, Features Editor for The Cask Magazine, and it’s one of those “crossover” collaboration products.”

For more whiskey/whisky words and definitions here: http://www.winetwofive.com/episode-30-warm-cocktails-toddies-tipples-and-tips/

Steph: “NV Gruet “Sauvage” Blanc de Blanc – American Sparkling Wine, Methode Champenoise, Zero Dosage ($20). Sauvage means wild or untamed. It is 100% Chardonnay and 100% making me happy!”


Main Discussion: Chatting Cheese With Janet Fletcher


Janet is the author or co-author of nearly 30 books on food and beverage, including Cheese & Wine, Cheese & Beer, Fresh from the Farmers’ Market; and Down to Earth: A Seasonal Tour of Sustainable Winegrowing in California. Among her most recent works are two memoirs with Napa Valley legend Margrit Mondavi: Margrit Mondavi’s Sketchbook and Margrit Mondavi’s Vignettes. Janet publishes the weekly Planet Cheese blog and is the cheese columnist for Specialty Food and Somm Journal magazines.

She teaches cooking and cheese-appreciation classes around the country. Her journalism has received three James Beard Awards and the IACP Bert Greene Award, and her food writing has appeared in numerous national publications, including The New York Times, Saveur, Fine Cooking and Food & Wine

Writing, Cheese, Classes and More

Janet attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and fell in love with food. However, after cooking in restaurants for a few years, she realized she had more of a writer’s temperament. It was the Bay Area’s own authority on wine and food, Robert Finigan of Robert Finigan’s Essentials of Wine: a guide to Discovering the World’s Most Pleasing Wines – yes, THAT Robert Finigan, that gave her her big break. Mind you this was before Robert Parker was “all the rage.”

It started with a cold call to his office to see if he needed any help; it also just so happened he did! Janet couldn’t believe her good fortune as she started ghost writing for Finigan’s restaurant newsletter. She, in her early 20’s, was traveling around San Francisco, getting paid to eat in the finest restaurants, and writing about it. Her writing career took off from there as one job led to another.

But after shaking our heads at her good fortune in the writing community, we really wanted to cut right to the cheese chase.

The Cheese Course

The cheese chapter of Janet’s food writing life came later on in her career, but Janet can trace the genesis of her love for cheese to some time she spent in Southern France. Janet, as in the case of many people we know, did not grow up with good cheese. When she saw the little discs of goat cheese at the market, and witnessed cheese course rituals in restaurants and in people’s homes, she became enamored with it.

Always looking for food trends, Janet noticed about 15 years ago that not only were restaurants starting to make a bigger fuss over cheese and presentations, but more varieties of cheeses were showing up in the the American market. She took these events as a cue to write The Cheese Course: Enjoying the world’s best cheeses at your table which is still in print today. This is what launched her deep dive into the wonderful world of cheese.

Another interesting part of the discussion centered around when we serve the cheese. Many Americans tend to offer the cheese platter at the beginning of the meal. Yet, it’s filling. Moving the cheese course to the dessert stage of the meal assures you eat less of it (particularly if you eat it nearly every day, like the three of us do). It’s no secret that we tend to fill up on the charcuterie board ahead of a meal. Therefore, this philosophy – if not an elegant solution to pay a little homage to a little fromage one or two ounces at a time – has woven its way into the other aspects of entertaining, such as the size of the other courses offered, amount of food consumed, etc.

Cheese and Crackers vs Fork and Fromage?

Janet offers some great commentary that will inspire just about anyone to change up their cheese game whether it’s in-home entertaining or dining out. But then … we go there. Cracker or no cracker? This is the question. The answer comes at about 16 minutes in.  The ladies, however, reach a knife and fork consensus, but the bottom line, as in wine, it’s all about what you like.

Meanwhile, Steph has an intimate moment with a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese on the show called Idiazabel, and Val is doing everything she can to keep even more cheesy puns out of this blog. Janet also gives us gouda *oops* good advice on what constitutes a cheese shop worth your time and mahon-ey *dammit* money.

There’s also a shoutout to The Fox and the Crow in the FoCo (Fort Collins, Colorado) where Steph scored the Idiazabel. They love them some Janet as well.

Planet Cheese, Please!

Fifteen years after that first cold call she is still writing about food and is now the proud producer of the weekly Planet Cheese blog and newsletter. She writes about where to shop for cheese, new cheeses, issues, books, recipes, tourism and even politics. Yes, cheese politics. There’s something new to learn about cheese every week, and it comes in small bites. Go to planetcheese.org to learn more.

The World Cheese Tour is a series of classes at the Silverado Cooking School in Napa that are monthly, themed tastings. Everything from American Cheese Society winners to new and notable cheeses are explored during the World Cheese Tour, now in its sixth year. She also teaches at The Cheese School of San Francisco and Shed in Healdsburg, CA. For more information on how you can wedge (eh-hem) yourself into one of the World Cheese Tour events (they fill up fast) check out the class selection on JanetFletcher.com

“Cheese is just as varied and worthy of study as wine”

Janet’s restaurant background has a strong influence on her writing and recipe development, as well as pairing projects.  Collaboration with chefs and their organizations or institutes is a natural fit. Sometimes it’s fun to reinterpret classics with new twists as food changes over the decades. There’s always some “new ideas, fresh thinking” that could benefit the food world, and she is certainly staying on top of it. She’s currently writing her 30th cookbook!

It also helps that she loves wine. Speaking of which, her latest project is for the Wine Institute, the trade association for California’s wine industry. The focus is to promote California’s sustainable table, from their farms, products, and specialty crops, to how farming and wine making have changed over the last generation with respect to sustainability. Every region in California will be represented in the book by a winery, and Janet gets to visit all of them.

We wrap up with her delightful embarrassing wine story, discuss spitting skills, and the even bigger delights that cheese has brought into her life – including people, places, history, culture, and terroir. Janet assures us that “cheese is just as varied and worthy of study as wine.”

Connect With Janet

Visit Janet’s website or connect with her on social media


Janet Fletcher Food Writer on Facebook

JanetFletcherNV on Twitter and instagram



OK, back to the wine. We certainly enjoyed the cheese chat, and we hope you did too. But for those of you who want to get back to the business of booze, here we go. This week’s geeky, fun, funky factoid is all about lightstruck wine.

Photo source: Creative Commons

“Lightstruck” flavor in wine happens when wine is over-exposed to light that results in a decrease of fruit aromas and an increase in cooked cabbage, corn, and wet dog aromas. In the beer world, this is what they call “skunky” beer. This is why beer and wine are bottled in dark colored glass to filter out the harmful wavelengths. In wine, we are really talking about white and rose wine that are most susceptible. Red wines have a protective veil from tannins and anthocyanins.

What happens is the light that actually penetrates the glass excites riboflavin (aka B12) which then reacts with amino acids (cysteine and methionine) and the reaction forms hydrogen sulphide and mercaptans. Mercaptan is the skunky smell (which can also be described as onions or garlic).

A few more bits… otherwise this could turn into an entire episode!

  • Amber/Brown bottles filter 97-98% of the harmful wavelengths
  • Specialized cellophane wrapping can filter 98%
  • Clear/Flint glass only filters 10%

If you’d like us to build this topic into a future episode, please leave us a Speakpipe message!

There’s also some good reading on this fault, as well as a slew of references for further exploration at the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), and this paper in particular: A technical note (TN-09) on The effects of heat and light on wine during storage by Nick Bruer.

Wino Radar

Have you heard of Fog Point vodka from Hangar 1 Distillery? Randall Grahm from biodynamic Bonny Doon Vineyard makes the vintage white wine that is then distilled. So why name it Fog Point? Ah, this is what makes this vodka extraordinary! The fresh water that is blended into the vodka is from San Francisco fog that is collected on fog catchers. This is quite an experiment by distiller Caley Shoemaker! She is all about conserving water in California and creating a vodka with terroir. The vodka tastes great too, as Steph got to try it at the Society of Wine Educators conference in Portland. She encourages you to watch the videos.

Do it.

It is sold out, but that doesn’t mean it’s not freaking cool. Also, you can order it at specified on-premise locations (see website).



Steph: Thank you to Janet Fletcher for being with us today!

Val: Thank you to all our patrons, and please know that if you joined the show after the last week in August, we’ll be adding your shoutouts at the end of September, as this episode is pre-recorded.

So as of today, 28 August, shout-the-hell out to current patrons:


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