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Laura Werlin on Sally Jackson:
The main thing I remember about Sally is that once you got her talking, she never seemed to stop. I, then a fledgling cheese book author, wasn't quite sure how to take her when I interviewed her for The New American Cheese, but she certainly was entertaining. How did this woman, practically blind, make cheese on her stovetop? Though I never got to see her farm, she sure painted a vivid picture. I kind of visualized Annie Oakley at the stove, stirring and stirring, in between sharpshooting or, in Sally's case, milking animals and doing farm chores. That may not have been the case, but that's somehow what I saw. She's truly an American cheese icon, which is why I chose to put her cheese on the cover of the book.
She certainly represents cheesemaking pioneers in that she continued doing what she did the way she'd been doing it pretty much since Day One. She wasn't all that concerned about innovating once she got her formula down. That said, her cheese WAS an innovation. Who, in this country, ever wrapped their cheeses in grape or chestnut leaves before she did it? Also, back when she started, no one would have had the nerve to give their cheese an eponymous name. Indeed, I don't know anyone who does that now? It was courageous of her to do that because in those days, Americans only bought cheeses that they'd already heard of -- cheddar, Monterey Jack, maybe Gruyere -- but Sally Jackson cheese? Then again, her distribution was tiny, so hers was a foodie's food, a chef's find, a jewel from northeast Washington that only insiders knew about -- and loved.
Though many people in this country, even cheese lovers, won't have ever heard of her, that doesn't make her contribution any less important. Knowingly or not, she helped pave the way for cheesemakers today by virtue of the quality of her cheese, the physical beauty of it, and the fact she did it her way.
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Tomorrow: Debra Dickerson of Cowgirl Creamery recounts a trip to Sally Jackson's farm with fellow cheese mavens Daphne Zepos and Kate Arding.