Language of taste: Caterer and cheese monger team up to launch Feast & Gather Provisions
Special to The Union
Chef Shanan Manuel of Feast & Gather and award-winning master cheese maker Barbara Jenness of Wheyward Girl Creamery share similar philosophies on eating.
Both women remark on the need for our culture to slow down and make time for food and loved ones. They both have established businesses with this ethic at the core, alongside a desire to be part of a tight-knit community where folks know them by name.
On Friday, the women and their businesses are teaming up to offer Feast and Gather Provisions — a pop up catering service featuring gourmet Grab and Go picnic items for summer adventures and long, lazy days at the river.
“We’re developing the menu right now. It’s a six month trial pop up so we’ll be playing,” said Manuel.
Outdoor recreationists planning a day at the river, park or trail will be wise to stop by the cheese shop located at 209 Commercial St., next to Three Forks Bakery and Brewing Company in downtown Nevada City.
“There’s this calmness in here. There’s this intention,” said Manuel. That same pause is what Manuel hopes people will re-discover when they take time for a picnic meant to be savored.
Shop for carefully curated picnic foods like charcuterie and artisan cheese, organic roasted bean and hummus dips, seasonal vegetables from the farmers market and not-your-standard sandwiches on weekends.
“When you go on a hike, nothing is better than cheese,” said Jenness, who as a master cheese maker and cheese monger is a rare talent for a small town.
In addition to picnic lunches, shoppers can choose from fast and easy quality dinner items like Feast & Gather Provisions weekly take and bake macaroni and cheese or the shop’s variety of dry pastas and jarred sauces.
“We can’t carry everything but we can carry the best,” said Jenness.
Three Forks is conveniently located next door for grabbing a quick baguette to accompany the meal.
All by yourself
For those who want to create an affordable do-it-yourself party for special occasions, a variety of rentals will be available — such as wood boards and utensils — modeled after Feast and Gather’s signature rustic “grazing tables” without the expense of hiring a caterer to staff an event. Online orders and special pre-orders for 10 or more will be available.
The idea bloomed after Manuel returned home to Nevada County after spending half a year in Sonoma setting up farm stays and curating dinners on a 160-acre farm for Temra Costa, author of “Farmer Jane — Women Changing the Way We Eat.”
Manuel grew up on an organic farm in Calaveras County where she developed her connection to healthy soil and radical ways of eating. These formative years shaped her career path spent mostly in farms and kitchens from Santa Barbara and the Bay Area to New York.
For 24 years she was immersed in the catering world with gigs like “Outstanding in the Field” events, her own soup delivery business “Nourish Bay Area” and a four year stint as a retreat chef for Café Gratitude on their farm in Vacaville and 11 years with Tutti Frutti Farms in Santa Barbara. This is her seventh year as the founder and owner of Feast & Gather.
Manuel is known locally for her “Dining in the Dark” — six course blindfold dinners at the private supper club Polly’s Paladar, her Community Supported Kitchen project, Nevada City’s Commercial Street farm dinners, work with nonprofit Sierra Harvest and a dinner fundraiser for Sierra Seeds with nationally recognized Native American wild food chef “The Sioux Chef.”
On all of her culinary ventures, taste is always her medium of choice.
“My language is taste though I always make it beautiful because beauty is my everything,” Manuel said.
When she moved back to Nevada County last June, she was looking to take her business to the next level and get involved with the community again.
“I actually belong in a small town,” she said.
Churning through life
A few months ago, she connected with Jenness and the two women began making plans to upgrade and expand the cheese shop’s certified kitchen from a cut and wrap facility.
Soon after, tragedy hit.
Without warning and completely out of character, Jenness’s husband of 25 years, James Hott took his own life. Devastated, Jenness is coping as best she can with the unexplained suicide of the man she considered “her rock.” She apologizes for the tears that come easily.
Family, friends and a dedicated staff have provided much needed support and kept the cheese store doors open. Manuel’s catering idea was serendipitous and is offering a glimpse of hope in a dark time. Warm smiles and laughter come naturally for Jenness, too.
“This is a wonderful way to help me go forward,” said Jenness.
Her cheese journey began 18 years ago in Michigan when she first started raising goats on the small farm she tended with her family. A pair of goats quickly turned into 40 animals and Jenness thought it would be fun to give cheese making a try. A biologist who first met her husband as a veterinary technician tracking and tagging bears in the wild, Jenness fell in love with the cheese-making world.
“Cheese making is a wonderful blend of science and art,” said Jenness.
She is a member of the American Cheese Society and an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional. She has traveled extensively for teaching and judging in the states and abroad.
A grandmother with seven grandchildren, her husband affectionately called her a “cheesy old lady.”
While her dream of selling her own creations was stymied by strict state and local regulations, Jenness procures cow, goat and sheep milk delicacies from the best artisan cheese makers in the world — both domestic varieties from the U.S. and imports from Europe. A staggering list can be found on the store’s website.
Locally, she is sought out for her cheese knowledge with a long line of regular clients including Three Forks Bakery and Brewery, The Stone House, Tess’ Kitchen, Onyx Theatre, Szabo’s Winery, Nevada City Winery, and Tahoe Food Hub.
“People come to us because we know cheese,” said Jenness who takes pride in guiding customers by offering tasting and origin stories, suggestions for making cheese plates and pairings.
Like a wine sommelier, a cheese monger brings a lifetime of teachings and knowledge to the fromagerie counter. She has a soft spot for mountain-style cheeses.
“I can take you on a cheese journey around the world,” she said.
Her eyes light up as she pulls a large wheel of orange cheese from the refrigerator and shaves off a sample to a new customer who has never before tasted the caramel sweetness and smoky after notes of a Mimolette colored with annatto seeds. For several years, the aged cheese known for the mites that give it a pitted rind was banned in the U.S.
“Life is all about stories,” Jenness said.
Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at email@example.com.
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