During my last visit to Orange County, California, instead of lounging by the pool all day, I decided to check out the farmers market at Old Towne Orange down by Chapman University. They only settled into their current site in Spring 2011, but there’s produce, honey, jams, flowers, and cheese among their offerings! Actually, it’s thanks to the Milk Man Chris Vamos that I discovered this market at all. Such is the power of Twitter (@milkmancheese)!
I caught up with Chris as he was loading up his car after the market. He was wearing a bright yellow tank top for a honey producer. I couldn’t miss him. Among the first words out of his mouth were, “Do you want some onions and avocados?” A loyal customer had brought him more than he can eat, so he was ready to pass these little treasures on.
As we chatted, I learned how he got into cheese. Educated at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design as an animator and graphic designer, he decided to leave the art world after growing disenchanted with the hardcore business aspect of it. He found a happy niche in cheese. The Los Angeles area is perfect for him because its rolling hills are great for his running habit. There are fewer cheese industry folks in the area, but that creates great business opportunities for him. Cars regularly honk at him because of his “Honk if you love cheese,” bumper sticker. When he needs to create, he can turn to his other talents of woodwork or even welding.
Chris, like me, harbors a dream of spreading the joys of California artisan cheese far and wide. At market that day, he was offering Fiscalini Farmstead cheddar, Schoch Family Farmstead Monterey Jack, blue cheeses from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, along with a few other options. It is hard work. Fans are won over one at a time, through tasting. There’s no instant download of cheese—Chris and others who sell cheese need to transport large quantities of cheese from gig to gig. His car is packed like a Tetris game field. There’s something a little bit romantic about him—he’s almost like a cheese ronin, a roaming cheese samurai with no master.
We parted ways cheerily. He drove off, ready to move more cheese, but ready to return the following week! Now that I have about 10 avocados, I need to find some creative uses for them!
You can catch Chris at local farmers markets around LA. He’s also available to teach, consult, and does wholesale sales. Thanks, Milk Man, for meeting up. Sorry I didn’t get a picture of you!