When Ron Pollitt of Kiawah Island, a longtime contributor to this column, made a suggestion for a cook to profile here, I knew it would be a good one. Make that two.
Ron and his wife, Pam, have a deep interest in cooking and developing their own recipes, be it comfort food or international cuisine. Their delight is obvious - it always feels like they're having fun with their food.
Ron recommended his friends Patty Cohen and Trudi Wagner, co-owners of the shop goat.sheep.cow. in downtown Charleston. "Both are excellent home cooks," Ron says. "Naturally, Patty makes an exceptional mac and cheese (whoda thunk it?), but she and/or Trudi also make several other dishes that please the most demanding palate."
Names: Patty Cohen and Trudi Wagner.
Residence: Both live in downtown Charleston.
Patty: I am divorced with two beautiful daughters, 27 and 24.
Trudi: Never married
Occupation: Co-owners of goat.sheep.cow., a cheese, charcuterie and wine shop on Church Street that opened in April 2011.
Q. What did you do in your previous lives?
A. Patty worked in a home studio designing and making custom women's clothing. Trudi was a member of the New York Stock Exchange and vice president at Goldman Sachs.
Q. How did the two of you meet?
Patty: The short story is that we sat next to each other at a wine tasting dinner in 2007 and have not stopped talking and enjoying each other's company since.
Q. Which came first, the cheeses or Charleston?
Patty: We had a wine shop in New Jersey that also sold cheese and charcuterie, but the main attraction was definitely wine. Here, we knew that that would not be such a draw so we changed our business plan to make the cheese and meat the focus.
Q. These days, there's a pretty wide selection of imported cheeses (and some meats) found in a number of supermarkets. How is your stock different, and how do you find it?
Patty: As a specialty shop, we make it our business to locate unusual and hard-to-find products. We never stop looking. We ask our suppliers to find things we've read about and we go to the airport every week to pick up anywhere from 175 to 400 pounds of cheese. We have some cheeses that no one else in the South has. Another big difference between us and a supermarket: We cut to order and check constantly to be sure that all our products are in the proper condition. We're also very careful about our pricing.
Q. We could ask about your favorite cheese, but instead, let's ask that in a slightly different way: Describe a cheese that knocks your socks off.
Patty: A perfectly ripe Valencay (ash-ripened goat pyramid from France) makes me swoon. But I have to say that for all-around, never-gets-old lovability, I'm going with our two year old Comte (a high mountain, raw cow milk cheese from the Jura mountains in France). It's perfect and I think I've probably eaten my body weight in it. I tell customers, "It's a taste you know, only better."
Trudi: For us, picking cheeses is like choosing among your children ... but if I have to, Bonne Bouche is a little ash-ripened goat cheese from Vermont Creamery. The first time I had it, I licked the plate. It's one of my desert island cheeses and it looks like hell, but it tastes like heaven.
Similar to Patty, I cannot neglect to mention a cheese that I want to eat a lot of every day. Canestrato is a sheep's milk cheese from Italy and is technically a pecorino, but not like any pecorino you've ever had. There is a nutty sweetness that only sheep's milk delivers, and this cheese delivers. It touches me in all the right places. If left unattended on the back counter, everyone starts to nibble.
Q. I want to assemble a snacking platter for a small, Spoleto-themed cocktail party. What cheeses, charcuterie, etc. would you recommend I put on it?
A. To our way of thinking, the perfect composed cheese plate has four cheeses: a soft, a semi-soft, a hard and a blue cheese. For the best variety, we recommend you do the goat.sheep.cow. thing as well. So if I picked Sophia, a really soft and sexy ash-ripened goat cheese from Capriole Cheese in Indiana; then maybe a semi-soft cow milk from France called Tomme Crayeuse with a rare yellow mold on its barky rind; then the incredibly delicious Italian hard sheep milk cheese that Trudi loves, Canestrato; and lastly, the creamiest, most buttery blue cheese we know, Blauschimmelkase, a pasteurized cow milk cheese from Germany; that's an awesome lineup! For meats, we like to mix the textures because almost everything is pork-based. Maybe Finocchiona, a rustic fennel-flavored salame and some Serrano ham. It's all great to pick at and substantial enough to keep you happy until there's time for dinner or dessert after the show.
Q. Both of you like to cook in general, so if I was coming for dinner at your house, what sort of dishes might you serve?
Patty: I would most likely roast you a chicken with some Yukon Golds in the bottom of the pan. I love potatoes in every form; I blame my Irish relatives for this. I've got a big wooden salad bowl with high mileage on it. You'd probably get a green salad with tomatoes and lots of fresh veggies and a freshly made vinaigrette.
Trudi: I would serve you a mustard-roasted fish on a bed of forbidden (black) rice with a side of broiled asparagus. It was a meal I had at local restaurant as a kid in New Jersey. Every time I went there, I had to have it and I never forgot about it. The tanginess of the mustard sauce pairs off the nuttiness of the rice while the tender sweetness of the fish shines through. Asparagus must be broiled lightly so there is still a crunch to it. No wilted asparagus here! Prep and cook time, 40 minutes. I love that.
Q. Who or what were your greatest food influences, and in what way?
Patty: So many of my friends in high school were Italian and I loved eating at their homes. Big families; lots of good food and talk and laughter in the kitchen and at the dinner table. That image of people comfortable and happy, cooking for them and with them was and still is what makes me happier than anything else.
Trudi: My mother was German and we ate a fair amount of ethnic meals. There were always some interesting food items in the fridge growing up (pigs' knuckles and beef tongues to name a few) and those definitely scared the h--- out of me. The rule was that you didn't have to like it, but you definitely had to try it, just once. I still live by that rule. I liked liver dumplings in a fine consomme at age 8; who would have known? She would make me steak tartare when I was too little to know exactly what I was eating but I would always beg her to make me some "steak guitar" again. My mouth waters at the thought of our weekly Sunday dinner of pot roast and spaetzle with brown gravy, red cabbage and fresh asparagus. I was also fortunate to grow up by the ocean in New Jersey and went fishing many days with my father for fluke, striped bass and tuna. I was spoiled with fresh fish just hours out of the water. ... I love great seafood and I fantasize about fresh fish crudos weekly.
Q. If you could teach the average person one thing about cheese, what would that be?
Patty: Stop looking for some cheese you ate years ago on a European vacation. We've got several hundred cheeses at any given time in our store; I think I can help you find one you like now.
Trudi: If your cheese grows mold on it, don't throw it out. And, serve your cheese at room temperature.
A favorite recipegoat.sheep.cow. Mac & Cheese
3 to 4 slices of bacon, cut into lardons
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) Vermont Creamery sweet butter, melted
1 medium onion, diced
1/3 cup flour
3 cups milk
11/4 pounds shredded Beecher's 1-year-old cheddar
1 pound pasta such as ziti
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Get a large pot of salted water to a boil. Butter an 8x10-inch oven-proof casserole with high sides.
Saute the bacon until just crisp and remove to a paper towel-lined plate.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Saute onion over low heat until soft but not browned. Sprinkle in the flour and stir with a whisk off heat until fully blended and smooth. Return to low heat; cook and stir for a minute or two. Whisk in a little of the milk to temper the roux then gradually add the rest of the milk, stirring constantly. Add two large handfuls of grated cheese and stir to melt. (Sauce should be getting thicker by now.)
Cook pasta for about 3 minutes less than recommended on package. Drain partially cooked pasta, reserving a cup of cooking liquid. Put drained pasta back into the large cooking pot. Pour roux over pasta and stir. If it seems too thick, add a bit of the reserved cooking liquid.
Spread 1/3 of the pasta-cheese sauce into the casserole and top with 1/3 of the remaining cheese. Sprinkle with pepper and paprika. Repeat two more times. Top with breadcrumbs and bacon. (If you want to make this ahead, stop right here and cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate. Let come to room temperature for about an hour before baking.) Bake uncovered for 30 minutes.