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Cooking with Carls: Spotlight on Artisan Cheese: Watercress Salad with Goat Cheese and Figs

<ve cheese. Once an anthropology professor, who knows my South Korean nationality, asked me with a puzzled look: “Aren’t Asians supposed to be lactose-intolerant?” Well, not me. I would have been miserable, if I were to give up these tasty treats from my diet. My generation grew up drinking milk. In fact, during my elementary school years, we had to drink milk at least one cup a day (full fat milk I am speaking of, since skim milk was unknown in Korea back then). While I like all dairy products, I wish I was taught how to appreciate various kinds of good quality cheeses at school instead of the same taste milk everyday. Unfortunately, my American high school cafeteria did not offer that important taste education either. It was finally during my summer in Italy after freshman year at Carleton, that I was happily exposed to the world of artisan cheese. From fresh buffalo mozzarella balls to mascarpone which goes my favorite dessert, Tiramisu, the numerous kinds of cheese entered into my life. And there began my love for cheese. However, what surprised me more than the variety in its kind was the fact that cheeses in Italy are mostly made by artisans, who continue and develop the tradition of cheese-making. Therefore, even the famous parmesan cheese, which we all know well, tastes different depending on its milk and method of the producer. As I returned to Minnesota, I became curious about the artisan cheese scene in the United States, putting aside other countries like France, Switzerland and Spain which are already known for their rich cheese-making culture. For one thing, Carleton College is right next to the big cheese state, Wisconsin.

For many decades, majority of artisan cheeses consumed in the United States used to come from Europe, dominantly from France. Along with the popularity and prestige of the French cuisine in upscale food scene of the United States during the 50’s and 70’s, most of gourmet ingredients were imported directly from France. And, cheese and wine, in particular, had to come from France. Let’s take goat cheese, or chèvre in French, which tends to stay out of the mass-production than say cheddar or parmesan. It used to be that many Americans brought this cheese with them from France, since none was made in the United States (again, it was only imported). In the 80’s while Alice Waters, the mother of American cuisine, started to pay attention to what is grown in the land of the United States, a few Americans with adventurous mind decided to make cheese at home. (Many of them have been in California, but there are two farms in Minnesota as well, namely Stickney Hill Dairy Farms in Kimball, and Poplar Hill Dairy Goat Farm in Scandia.) And thanks to many artisans who have developed the art of making cheese over the years, today, some of American artisan cheeses are best in the world. Try Minnesotan goat cheese from Stickney Hill or Poplar Hill Dairy Farms or Californian one from Cypress Grove. You are lactose-intolerant? Don’t worry, because goat’s milk cheese is much easier to digest than cow’s milk cheese. Add fresh figs and watercress, and it will be perfect for the beautiful spring weather at Carleton.

*Want to learn more about American artisan cheese? Come to the 2nd annual cheese tasting event by Slow Food Carleton Convivium this Saturday 4pm at Upper Sayles. (Also, check out

Watercress Salad with Goat Cheese and Figs (serves 4)


8 firm-ripe figs
3 oz fresh goat cheese
Black pepper
1 bunch watercress
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp balsamic vinegar


1. Preheat broiler.

2. Wash figs and pinch figs apart from their top. Be careful not to cut figs all the way.

3. Stuff the figs with a little bit of goat cheese. Sprinkle salt and black pepper to taste.

4. Place the figs into the broiler and grill them till cheese starts to melt.

5. Over watercress place the figs and add soy sauce and balsamic vinegar.

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