In celebration of all the glorious cheese making that goes on in our region, we’ve put together the Curd Convention, a cheese festival-within-a-festival! Clearly we needed a Philly culinary icon like Aimee Olexy to take on the challenge of playing host. Aimee has helped us put together an extraordinary day of programming with tastings and demos led by an all-star cast of the area’s best cheesemakers.
Growing up in West Chester, PA with “hippie” parents, Aimee was surrounded by good local food from the start and can recall her fondness for cheese at a young age. Currently, Aimee has three restaurants – Talula’s Table in Kennett Square, Talula’s Garden (in partnership with Stephen Starr) and Talula’s Daily both in Philly. Here, she has created truly unique (not to mention highly acclaimed) dining experiences that highlight the local and seasonal harvest in our area.
I asked Aimee about her favorite cheeses and what it’s like to play hostess in real life…
You’ve worn many hats in the food industry – from waiting tables to opening and owning restaurants. Is there any one you like best?
I never tire of being on the front line; I love cooking and I love serving. From chatting about a wine table-side to dressing a delicious salad, I enjoy the social interactions of the dining room floor but also the intimacy of working with ingredients and food. On a perfect day, I really like making cheeseboards, selling cheese and breaking down and tasting wheels of cheese! I do go home smelling a little cheesy.
Where do you go to discover new cheeses for your restaurants? What gives you inspiration for your seasonal menus?
I am inspired largely through guests. They share their adventures with me and I often follow up on cheeses they tasted at a Farm Market or friends house.. These days cheesemakers often bring their cheeses to me which is exciting. I spend a ton of time on menus. The staff inspires me, the weather and certainly my own cravings. I do not stray too far from American/European foundations.
With all of your cheese eating experience have you ever made your own cheese?
No never on my own, but yes helping out at farms to learn. I have tasted a ton of recipes though and certainly make simple ricotta and sour cream and elements like that. I am more into chickens than goats and cows and sheep; so likely I will stay in cheese care, service and sales. I lack the science side, but I relish in the service and sales side.
Food can tell a story of place. Is there a cheese that you feel is representative of Chester County?
That is a fantastic question. Everyone is doing an unbelievable job so it is a very hard question too. I would have to fall back on Birchrun Hills Fat Cat. That cheese is so real. It is meaty, but not overbearing. It is very natural and reminds me of the terrain. You never forget it is made of milk that cheese! It is a stalwart and definitely reflective of Chester County’s appellation status potential.
Talula’s Garden, Daily and Table were named after your daughter. Does she share your affinity for food and cheese? Is there anything that you just can’t convince her to eat?
This is my dirty, little secret. My daughter does not like cheese. Salami, veggies, avocado… all day long. Cheese; she refuses to even go on a delivery with me. Only ricotta, she will devour… so, there is hope.
You’ve been described as the quintessential hostess. What are some things you like to do or have for your guests at home?
Thank you! I indulge with them, I think that is critical. I am not shy about eating and drinking and having fun when I make the time. I develop dishes and cheese plates that are conversation pieces too. I like to tell stories of the quest and support the great makers. Last week I served (all local) bread and butter and salt for a little hors d’eouvre You never could believe how fun and fulfilling it was.
Could you give any advice on creating a local cheese plate? What should absolutely be on there?
Swarmbustin’ Honey. What a regional jewel.
As Curd Convention host(ess), what are you most excited about for Fest this year?
I get excited about the crowd. I like to meet new folks and chat about cheese passion. I am excited to visit each vendor and see what they put forward. I can’t say enough good things about Doe Run Farm. This is a cheese Chef’s need to get on their plates! And, one more thing – if I bring my daughter – I’m excited if she tries a cheese 😊 and likes it. Maybe Yellow Springs will win her over – there cheeses are just lovely!