Grace McWilliams loves black truffle cheese, but because it is so rich she will gladly eat aged Gouda any day.
She also likes quince paste, but that's difficult to find locally. So fig paste it is. And if you pair a well-stocked charcuterie board with a good cheese board, that's a meal in itself.
What in the world? Well, that's the point. The Savannah Cheese Club is all about breaking down international barriers when it comes to the love and appreciation of the art of enjoying a good cheese. You'll also learn how to pronounce charcuterie, which is French for deli.
As the club president, McWilliams has been referred to as the city mouse. Her best friend Hannah Harrison (vice president) is the country mouse who comes to Savannah to visit McWilliams for their bi-monthly cheese club meetings.
"She's in the country (southwest Georgia) learning about making cheese," McWilliams said. "And I'm in the city."
And on Jan. 28, they will be at Lulu's Chocolate Bar, the winner of Savannah Cheese Club's 2015 Best Overall Cheese Board. Actually, Lulu's won in 2012, but there was no party. The club is a loose-knit group started by a few friends in 2012. There are no bylaws, and members come and go with no dues requirements.
That is expected to change. Big plans are in the making for this year and next.
"We have developed an itinerary for the club," McWilliams said. "We will cooperate with a few businesses to offer workshops (how to make a simple cheese, how to taste and pair) and film screenings (there's a documentary series that goes into classic cheeses, making cheeses). And we will take a tour of local cheese-maker Flat Creek Dairy in Swainsboro."
And anyone who makes four club meetings this year will receive a discount on their 2017 dues, which has yet to be defined except the funds will help support club projects. Meetings usually start at cocktail time, about 6:30 or 7 p.m. The event at Lulu's is a special award meeting, thus the 5:30 p.m. start time, she said.
McWilliams was in the food industry for a dozen years when she decided it was time to look at food in a different way.
"I've worked in great restaurants and was able to learn to love food in a new way," she said. "One option if you wanted to become a connoisseur of cheese was through the American Cheese Society as a certified cheese professional."
To become qualified as certified takes years. So she gathered her friends and they went to different restaurants around town to sample cheese boards.
"The club gives people an opportunity to learn more about what they like," she said.
It can also break down the intimidation barrier to all that cheese.
The club also provides a checklist of what to look for when reviewing a cheese board, she said.
What qualifies as a winner? "If it's served with a pairing and some bread, you can call it a cheese board," she said. "It could be a simple one. Some restaurants do a little cheese, grapes and crackers. Technically, it's a cheese board, but it won't be well reviewed."
The pairing is the what comes with the cheese.
"It could be honey or it could be candied nuts," she said. "A lot of times it could be olives. What they pair with the cheese can make or break the board. If they put two grapes out, they aren't putting any effort into the cheese board. And of course, the quality of the cheese."
At Lulu's, the cheese board comes with blueberries, grapes and raspberries instead of just one fruit.
"They have a different taste and it affects the taste of the cheese," she said.
Her own taste for the rare quince paste is because of its "perfect mesh of textures and the balance of nutty and fruity," she said.
One restaurant offers three different cheddars on its board, she said.
"It's too repetitive. If you are in the mood for different cheddars, that's great. But that wasn't diverse enough. You want to mix what cheese you are presenting on your board."
You also don't want to taste the cheese you know comes from the local grocery store.
"You go to a restaurant and they serve you a smoked Gouda. If they are charging almost $20 for a cheese board, you don't want to eat (supermarket) cheese," she said.
"The ideal cheese would be European, but it can also be local," she said. "There are a lot of creameries and cheese makers in Georgia that are still under the radar. There's a great market for serving locally made cheese."
Sometimes the restaurant will give you a list of what you can have on your board, she said. "That's the most fun. It's a very good thing to do as a group. It's hard to feel like a stranger when you are trying cheese together."
The largest cheese selection can be found at Local 11Ten Food and Wine, at the south end of Forsyth Park, with an expansive charcuterie board, McWilliams said. "A total of eight; most restaurants only offer five or six. I have a feeling they might win the 2016 award," she said.