I asked Greg O’Neill, owner/proprietor of Pastoral (2945 N Broadway) to name his favorite cheese, and he chose Rondo, a goat’s/cow’s milk blend that he described as a “magical combination of tartness and creaminess with a signature feel and simple elegance.”

Rondo is produced by Soyoung Scanlan of Andante Dairy, an artisanal cheesemaker out of Petaluma, California. She has composed Rondo to have the “brightness of a goat’s milk cheese and the mouthfeel of a cow’s milk cheese.”  It is, indeed, a wonderful cheese: luxurious, but with a tang that gives snap to the silkiness.  The skin is remarkably delicate and flavorful, with a depth of taste and the lingering scent of California fields and goats that have been loved. 

Scanlan–a former music student–gives her cheeses musical names: Metronome, Acapella, Pianoforte The name of the dairy itself suggests a moderate pace, a slower speed, appropriate for the making of cheese – and, apparently, negotiating contracts with vendors. Pastoral is the only specialty cheese store in the city to carry Scanlan’s cheese, and it took two years to actually get her cheese into the shop.

In early 2004. Harold McGee was in Chicago to promote a 20th anniversary edition of his masterpiece, On Food and Cooking. During the Kennedy administration, McGee and I were in the same communion class in Elmhurst, Illinois, and we had emailed back and forth before meeting up in Chicago to do an interview for a segment of Gorilla Gourmet, produced by my friend Mike Gebert. After the interview, we stopped in at Pastoral. Scanlon, a friend of McGee’s, had asked him to check out the new cheese store while he was in town to see if it was suitable for her product.  It wasn’t until he deemed it acceptable that the wheels started to turn. Now Pastoral offers several Andante cheeses, including Rondo, one called Piccolo, and another called Pastoral (Named for the shop?  Greg says probably not, but if Scanlon was naming cheeses after strictly musical terms, she would have called this cheese Pastorale, so who knows?)

In the picture above, Rondo is on the left and Pastoral is on the right; holding both cheeses is Daniel Sirko, fromager at Pastoral and 2005 American Cheese Society judge.

Scanlan is very protective of her cheese; says Sirko explains, “she wants what we’re selling to always be the best example of what she’s making.”  That’s why Scanlan asked McGee to do recon for her: she wanted to be sure that Pastoral had the would handle her creations with care–artisanal cheeses should be rewrapped daily, kept at the right temperature, and cut to order.

In an interview with Lynne Rossetto Kasper of Splendid Table, Scanlon explained that cheese making is like playing the piano: “for certain parts you have to be really gentle, and at certain parts you have to be very straightforward and put your energy (into it)….The whole goal of cheese making for me is expressing the beauty of milk.” 

In addition to Pastoral and other specialty cheese stores, Andante Dairy cheeses are available in several high end restaurants, including Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Per Se–but none in Chicago.