I knew it was National Cheese Lover’s Day because Genevieve O’Sullivan had just told me so. Gen and her husband, Conan, own Sona. They know something about cheese.
Sona is an old Irish word meaning “happy.” O’Sullivan. Yes, they’re Irish. And they’re happy with their cheeses.
Gen and Conan spent their early years together in Washington state. It was on the west coast that they experimented and perfected their cheese making skills. Eventually they decided to move to the east coast to be closer to family. Impressed with the vibrant food culture in the nation’s capital, they decided to open Washington, D.C.’s first creamery.
They offer more than 100 cheeses on the retail side of the room, including the chevre they make themselves. Their wine menu offers an impressive selection, with an emphasis on Washington state wines. Gen and Conan know a lot about Washington wines. And they’ve put together a “Cheese Board” of local foodies to advise them on pairings. Which wine goes best with which cheese.
I wanted to try the house made chevre. Michael, the young man tending my table, said he’d check the cheese vault to see if their latest production was ready for sampling.
Gen asked if I’d like to try a new cheese they were experimenting with. Absolutely!
She said they were working on producing the creamiest, most buttery cheese ever. They start with a mix of cow’s milk and goat’s milk. That mixture alone will make a creamy, buttery cheese. But then they push it a little farther at one point in the process by adding a little crème fraiche.
It was National Cheese Lover’s Day and I was in Sona. Seemed foolish to order anything other than a grilled cheese sandwich.
Sona’s grilled cheese comes on sourdough bread from Lyon Bakery, an artisanal bakery just a few blocks from Capitol Hill in Southwest D.C. A very tasty bread all by itself.
The menu said the grilled cheese sandwich contains five different cheeses. I asked Michael which cheeses were included. He said the base is a Cabot cloth bound cheddar. Other than that they never know. He said when the cheesemongers trim the wheels that go into the retail display they toss the trimmings into the mix. One day there might be a hint of bleu cheese; another day it might be a Gruyere.
The one thing I knew for sure was the sandwich was good. Very good. The Cabot cloth bound cheddar is produced at George Kempton’s farm in Peacham, Vermont, a member of the Cabot farm cooperative prevalent in New York and New England. The cloth bound wheels are aged in the cellars at Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont.
I couldn’t identify the other four cheeses. But the characteristic tanginess of the Cabot cheddar stood out prominently, turning the simple sandwich into a bright, sparkling dining experience. A terrific embellishment on American comfort food.
It was National Cheese Lover’s Day. I was in the right place. A world of happy cheese.