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Football, Whiskey and Gouda?

The only thing that San Diego Charger Outside Linebacker Shaun Phillips likes more than sacking quarterbacks is blue cheese. “I love its aging process, the mold. The bluer, the more bacteria, the better it tastes.” In ’09 he led the NFL in forced fumbles, and the Chargers with seven sacks. He has missed only three games in the last four seasons and is ranked seventh on the team’s all-time sacks list. His 2010 goals: play in all sixteen games, “can’t help my team if I’m not on the field;” win the Super Bowl, “we all play for one thing and that’s it;” and find a better pairing than "smoked Gouda and whisky."

“BL put them together and I mean, it’s crazy, it’s so good.” There’s only one way to taste it. “You chew up the Gouda, let it lay flat on your tongue, ‘paving’ it. Then sip the whisky and let it roll along the cheese highway, baby. That’s BL’s way. You either believe in her way, or don’t. And I do.”

“Emily Post really ruined it when she said to separate food and drink,” says Los Angeles-based “Cheese Impresario” and highway innovator, Barrie Lynn (aka: BL). The cheese highway isn’t pretty but it marries the flavors perfectly, she says. Lynn conjures up esoteric and exotic pairings for corporate and private events, parties and weddings. She pairs Parmesan (SarVecchio) and Single Malt Scotch (Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or); Raspberry BellaVitano and Rum (Neisson Rhum Agricole Réserve Spéciale; and Limburger (Chalet Cheese) with Trappist Ale (Chimay). Her current favorite: Gorgonzola (Sartori) and Dal Maguey Santo Domingo Albarradas Mezcal.

A mutual friend suggested that the Impresario - whose gorgonzola, blue cheese and nut brittle with honeycomb sandwich won Judge’s Choice at the 2008 Grilled Cheese Invitational - and the Athlete - who makes his own ravioli and logs his every cheese pairing, noting milk type, taste, texture, origin, history and wine or spirit - might want to share their mutual and epic cheese obsession.

Phillips’ started in college when he aced a Purdue communications class with a paper on cheese. Lynn’s just a few years ago when she attended a slow food artisanal cheese event and fell in love. “I can’t explain it. Instantly cheese became an obsessive hobby. It was all I could think about. I traveled, socialized because of cheese.” It became her life.

Lynn had an epiphany at the 2005 American Cheese Society Conference. She would spread the gospel of cheese through the Oscars. She created an artisanal cheese pairing gift certificate and pitched it for inclusion in the 2006 Oscar goody bag that’s given to winners and presenters.  She got the nod, lined-up cheesemakers and wineries and abruptly walked away from a successful advertising career. “I had no business model. My parents cried, my friends freaked out, but I knew I had to devote myself to cheese. My father didn’t understand. He thought I’d be handing out samples at Costco.”

She did her first pairing with Oscar-winners Three 6 Mafia of “It’s Hard Out There For A Pimp ” fame. “I had never met a rapper or listened to rap and they weren’t into artisanal cheeses. It was fantastic. I brought my Mom.” Mom spent quality time with DJ Paul, Juicy J and Crunchy Black and Lynn held forth on the glory of cheese. A business model was born. “They were so sweet. So interested in cheese! We’re still in touch,” she says.

Phillips grew up helping his mom with her catering business and credits his early exposure to food with his decision to major in hospitality. He also credits the Philadelphia Police Athletic League (PAL) with keeping him on the straight and narrow so that he could get to Purdue. “I’d do my homework, go to PAL at four, play pool, ping pong, basketball, day and night. It was my outlet and my release. It kept me off the streets.”

Consequently, he’s one of the top fund-raisers and spokesmen for the group After-School All-Stars, which offers comprehensive after-school programs for inner-city kids. “I thank God for putting me in this situation where I can give in the way it was given to me.” And he’s thankful that he’s always loved to learn. “I’d sit in front in all my classes. I love learning new information. I’m not a nerd. I’m just motivated to learn.” Though he always knew he’d go pro, “that was just in the game plan,” Phillips wanted to be prepared just in case and got his degree “in something I liked.”

Love of learning is a prerequisite for a cheese obsession because there’s so much information to absorb. For each cheese you factor in type of animal, how it’s raised, where it’s raised, what it eats, is it raw or pasteurized, does it use a mesophilic or thermophilic starter, temperature, rennet or chymosin coagulation, pH markers, color, cutting the curd, heating the curd, pressing, shaping, salting, brining with water, beer or wine, additional bacteria, how it’s aged, where it’s aged and types of rind: bloomy, brushed, washed, oiled, larded, wax-covered, ash-covered, bandaged in cotton or left alone.

BL knows all this for every single cheese, he says. “She knows who makes it, how he makes it woody or sweet, how he ages it and why. She knows the difference between cheese from a third generation cheesemaker and a fourth, between an inland cheese and a coastal one.” Their friendship is as unlikely and as compatible as one of Lynn’s pairings. They talk about cheese, wine, whisky, bourbon and vodka, about her pairing cheese with rare Japanese sakes and his plans to open San Diego’s first wine and cheese lounge.

Phillips loves that cheese has been around for thousands of years. “When I like something it’s about its history and experience. When I buy clothes, cars, anything, it’s based on the story behind the object. What has more stories than cheese?”