What’s in Season: An Interview With Cheesemonger Cindy Della Monica

Cindy Della Monica is a busy lady. For more than 30 years she’s been teaching people about food throughout a colorful career in the industry, having worked for both herself and reputable brands like Robert Mondavi. These days Cindy can be seen at her latest creation located in Downtown Lodi, Cheese Central, where she continues to teach people about food and, more specifically, the eternal love affair between wine and cheese.

“We’re always educating the public on why cheese and other yummy things go well together,” she says.

But that’s not all. Cindy’s also an advocate for her local food system—a supporter of other local artisans, farmers, vintners and chefs. Together, they’re supporting sustainable practices and buying locally.

Fresh Is Best, Always

Downtown Lodi’s weekly farmers’ market is where you’ll find Cindy most Thursdays, conversing with other merchants, or standing alongside a sampling table in front of the Weibel tasting room, a family vineyard known for producing California Champagne and fine wines. Getting hungry yet?

Cindy says she grows much of her own produce, and what she can’t grow herself she likes to find at the market, where guests can also enjoy wine and live music.

For visitors to the farmers’ market, summer is a great time to enjoy seasonal treats like strawberries, blueberries, figs and melons, as well as savory selections like summer squash, heirloom tomatoes and artichokes.

Plus, you can do a lot more than buy and eat delicious foods at the market; you can learn how this community is trying to bring more people into the local food fold. After all, fresh food is for everyone, not just people who can afford fine dining or those lucky enough to grow it for themselves.

Shop the Market Like a Pro

For people not accustomed to buying their food from a farmers’ market, Cindy has a few helpful bits of advice.

“Taste before you buy,” she says. “Buy only what you can eat while it’s fresh.”

cheese shop in lodi

Getting food that’s produced locally is a huge step in the right direction, but so is a little thoughtful planning. According to Food Genius, a food data company, 80 percent of Americans don’t know what they’re having for dinner by 4 p.m.

Instead of flying by the seat of your pants, Cindy recommends meal planning. In addition to reducing food waste, you also position yourself to eat fresher ingredients and enjoy the nuances of preparing a home-cooked meal.

“A simple cooking class, as a social event with a friend, is a great way to start,” Cindy says.

Stop by Cheese Central for a cooking class with Cindy herself, from January to October. Call ahead for a class schedule, as they change periodically throughout the year.

Seasonal Recommendations

Today there are more than 85 wineries peppered throughout the Lodi region. So it seems only appropriate that Cindy makes pairing recommendations per the season. For wine and cheese, Cindy recommends a tangy goat cheese with crisp Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino or Pinot Grigio.

cheese board lodi

Photograph courtesy of Pietro’s of Lodi

If you’re headed to Lodi this summer and crave a local bite, Cindy praises Pietro’s, a family-style farm-to-table Italian restaurant off Kettleman Lane, and says dining in the garden is a must. Fresh cantaloupe and prosciutto, anyone?

Enjoying some of its local purveyors is a great way to spend a weekend in Lodi, but there’s so much more to learn about food in general from this charming city east of the Bay. Cindy, for example, is excited to see more interest in the area’s 85-plus wineries, and believes there are several good reasons for everyone to get more involved in their local food system, whether you live in Lodi or not.

“Knowledge is power,” she says. “Power over the food system, and over what you put in your body.”

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