Welcome to The Blogosphere Home of The Cheese Snob. If you would like to know more about who I am and what I do, I recommend you check out my Website, www.cheesesnob.com

Monday, July 31, 2006

How To Wrap Cheese

Melissa wrote in asking about wax paper. Specifically, can wax paper be used to wrap cheese.

This question brings me to one of the greatest points of contention and causes of anxiety in the cheese world: how to wrap cheese.

Most Cheesemongers are rather stoic when it comes to plastic. "No! Don't wrap in plastic!" they say. And with good reason. But most Cheesemongers, working in a retail setting, wrap their cheeses in plastic for the display case, or in backstock. When they cut to order, they may not wrap the piece they hand the customer in plastic, but look around: plastic everywhere.

Plastic is evil, albeit a necessary evil.

Plastic is not good for cheese because it seals the cheese in an air-tight environment, thus not allowing for any gasses or moisture to escape. Cheese is a living thing, and it's very important for living things to breathe. With some cheeses it's not a huge issue, but with most cheeses it is. Any cheese with a natural rind, a bloomy rind, a washed rind, and most blues will get icky being in plastic for too long. Goat cheeses, especially those chevres with the crinkly rind, get absolutely disgusting when wrapped in plastic. Fresh goat cheeses get yucky, too.

Even with hard cheeses, the surface sitting next to the plastic will taste like plastic (to someone with a sensitive palate, at least), because the cheese absorbs the chemical aroma and flavor off-gassing from the plastic. When I buy cheese to order, and the wheel is wrapped in plastic (as it usually is), unless I've just seen another piece cut from that very wheel, I will ask the Cheesemonger to trim a slice from the cut surface that's been next to the plastic before cutting my wedge.

So why is plastic necessary? Because the cheese will dry out. Unless the cheese shop has enough bell jars to house each cut wheel, the cut ends do need to be protected from the air, which is often not humid enough to properly sustain the cheese. (Cheese needs humidity.) Also, customers have this funny idea that they have to see the cheese before they buy it. Can't blame them, I suppose.

So when you get your piece of cheese home, depending on the shop, it may be wrapped in plastic, French cheese paper, butcher paper over wax paper, or stuffed into a zip-lock plastic bag.

What is French cheese paper? It's a double-layered wrapper made for wrapping cheese, and it comes from France. Last time I checked, the French still rule the cheese world. Don't argue, you know it's true. Anyway, the outer layer is thin paper, usually with some nice pictures printed on it, or the logo for the cheese shop. The inner layer is very thin plastic with microscopic holes. This allows the gasses and a little moisture to escape, but not so much that the cheese dries out. It's genius stuff.

Here's how I store my cheese in the refrigerator:
1. If it arrived in French cheese paper, I leave it in the French cheese paper.
2. If it arrived in butcher paper over wax paper, I might throw it into a plastic bag, and fold it over loosely. Don't seal the bag or wrap it tightly; you want to approximate the effects of the French cheese paper.
3. If it arrived in plastic, I wrap it in a layer of wax paper or parchment paper and do the plastic bag thing as stated above.
4. Blue cheese can be wrapped in aluminum foil.

Wax paper is a fine wrapper for cheese, but it lets too much moisture out, so it needs another layer of heavy paper or the plastic bag trick.

And that's about that for now.

Yours in Cheese,
-Wendy M. Levy

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Errata, Or: I Hate Being Wrong

I found out the other day that the Bedford Cheese Shop was never owned by Frank. It's always been owned by two guys named Jason. Hmm. Where did I get this information? How could I have been misled so easily? Oh well.

Frank doesn't work there anymore. Apparently he's in Seattle. Maybe he's a Cheesemonger there.

In any event, the Bedford Cheese Shop is still a place to go for excellent cheese, and this week I may go check it out again.

That's all for now. I think I need to go hang out on my roof for an hour or so, while it's still nice outside.

Yours in Cheese,
-Wendy M. Levy

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

An Assortment


There's a lot going on, so each segment will be short-ish. I'll try to go in chronological order.

The Fine Cheese Co.
Tuesday at the Fancy Food Show brought me in touch with Anne-Marie Dyas, owner of The Fine Cheese Co.out of Bath, England. She's been cheesemongering for 20 years now, and she sources some FINE cheese. Anne-Marie is one of the ambassadors of UK farmhouse cheese, and if you give a rat's ass about traditional foods, history, and the preservation of artisanal cheesemaking, you'll support her at every opportunity.
I had a lovely time talking with Anne-Marie at the food show; she's opinionated and incredibly knowledgable, but diplomatic at the same time. Yes, the cheese was fantastic, but I want to bring her English Pickles to your attention, specifically the Onion Pickle and the Tomato Pickle. As I ate them, I thought: "Goodness, I really want a grilled cheddar sandwich right now, with this stuff slathered all over it."

Mary Quicke
Anne-Marie encouraged me to walk over to see Mary Quicke, Managing Director of Quicke's Traditional Ltd., makers of such fine cheeses as... Quicke's Traditional Cheddar. Mary is one of the few cheesemakers still producing traditional, farmhouse cheddar. Most are industrial these days. Her cheddar is quite rustic: it's wrapped in muslin during aging, and the flavor is definitely sharp, but not acidic whatsoever, and there's a rich earthiness to it that one will never find in factory-made cheddars. One of the things that gets me all riled up is the state of Cheddar in the world today. So many Americans think Cheddar comes in vac-packs and that sharp = acidic. NO!!! Anyway, Mary Quicke is a delightful woman. Very sweet and friendly, with a warm, energetic personality. I hesitate to use the word "cute" for fear of offending her (some people don't like to be called "cute") but she's adorable! And her cheese is worth seeking out. Murray's carries it, and if your neighborhood cheesemonger doesn't, go to the store and SCREAM REAL LOUD until you get what you want.

My friend Chris Hall wrote and informed me that a newsfeed of my blog is available. I don't even know what that means, but he's convinced me it's important. So, I fudged some html, of which I know nothing about, and made a section in the right-hand column where you may obstensibly obtain the newsfeeds, either through rss or atom. Since I know nothing about this, I am relying on you, Gentle Readers, to let me know if it's working. Thanks! Now you can stay up-to-date on CHEESE.

The Continuing Adventures Of...

As I am writing this, I just received an email from Felix, our friend at MS Selection Export. As you recall, he's the man who set up an excellent cheese tasting for me last week at the food show. He wrote to thank me for writing, but I think he might be a little embarrassed at the attention he's getting from my blog post. He said next time he wouldn't talk so much, to which I said, "No, talk more!" So hopefully we'll get some more good cheese info and stories from our friend Felix.

Yesterday I met with a friend who has a huge amount of experience managing musical acts and acting as an agent for performers. He gave me a lot of very good advice on promoting myself, and he helped me to make some very important realizations about myself and where I want to go with this cheese thing. So, in the next few days, I'm going to revamp almost everything, from my press release (still in production, not sent yet) to my approach, to my philosophy, to my website (pending), to EVERYTHING. Stay tuned.

The Cheese Hour, With Wendy M. Levy
I have a production company interested in creating/filming a television show about cheese, and guess who will be the star? No, not Ronald McDonald. ME! We're going to start storyboarding it so we can begin shooting a few demo episodes. Then we'll sell it to the Food Network, if they know what's good for them. The show is going to be very informative, but very amusing and entertaining. My personality is too large to be contained anymore. I will be the Cheese Queen of All Media. Sorry, Howard Stern. I can't tell you any more about it because I don't want to give away the store. So again, stay tuned.

Cheese On The Radio
Tomorrow I'm going to WFMU to do my weekly volunteer gig. While I'm there, I'll be stopping by Kenny G's show, Intelligent Design, to do my weekly cheese report. Kenny takes radio, puts it in his mouth, lets it settle onto his palate, spits it onto a plate, and then feeds it back to you. Just like what I do with cheese. Except I don't make you eat cheese I've already put in my mouth. Anyway, tomorrow, at some point from 3-6 pm, you can hear me and Kenny talking about this week's cheese, as well as other stuff we think of at the moment. So tune in to WFMU either on the internet or at 91.1 FM in the NYC area.

Dairy In The Garden
My friend Anne Saxelby, of Saxelby Cheesemongers, is hosting a benefit party on Saturday, and you should get tickets and attend! Anne has nominated the Evans Family, of the Evans Farmhouse Creamery, to the Terra Madre Slow Food Expo in Italy. To help them get there (because we all know farmers aren't the wealthiest folks in the world), she's throwing a big benefit garden party/tasting event, with delicious food prepared by some of the finest of the fine in the LES, and all recipes use Evans Farmhouse Creamery dairy products. Tickets are only 20 bucks, and include a fantastic presentation by an organization called "Added Value," based in Red Hook. I'll be there helping to take money and dish out the dairy. I hope you will be there, too. It's going to be in a community garden! What better place to be in the summer.

That's all for now.

Yours in Cheese,
-Wendy M. Levy, Caseophile

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Fancy Food Show - Part One

It's hot outside, the moon is full and bright yellow, and July 4th is over.

Other than the full-moon part, that means only one thing:

It's time for the NASFT Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center!

This is my 3rd time going. The first time was in 2001, when I was working for a specialty food distributor in Vermont. I was completely overwhelmed, but in a good way.

The second time was in 2004, when I went with my Dad and Step-Mom. Yes, this is our type of family outing.

Last year I didn't go.

But this year, for the obvious reasons (new freelance career, decision that THIS is my life's work), I decided to go.

It was still overwhelming, but fun. A lot of it was frustrating and superfluous. Call me bitchy, but does the world really need more spice rubs for meat, or marinades for meat? Why not just better-quality meat, then we don't have to dump a bunch of crap all over it. And I am disillusioned with so much second-rate, processed food hiding under the umbrella of "gourmet." What the hell does "gourmet" mean, anyway? It's a meaningless term at this point, and I have all but excised it from my vocabulary.

One more rant about cheese, and then I'll get to the fun parts. Haven't we had enough Manchego?! As I walked through the Spanish aisles, eagerly anticipating discovering some cool Spanish cheeses I had yet to try, or at least chatting with folks who bring in such favorites as Ibores, Torta del Casar, Monte Enebro, Roncal, Campo del Montalban, etc., the only thing I found was Manchego. Manchego. Manchego. Manchego in wheels with brown wax, Manchego in wheels with yellow wax, Manchego cut up into triangles and shrink-wrapped onto little trays. Is there really such a demand for Manchego that every Spanish cheese importer feels the need to sell only that cheese?! Feh!

Okay. I'm better now. Thank you.

So here was one particularly fun highlight of the day:
I was wandering through the French aisles, and I happened upon the MS Export booth. I was looking into their case, thinking to myself, "Where's Felix? When will one of these aproned guys stop talking to people so I can ask them where Felix is?" I'm deep in this though when someone YELLS my name from behind me and scares the pants off me (oh wait, I don't wear pants). It's Felix!

When I get frightened, I sometimes laugh, so I laughed for a long time. Then we had a cheese tasting, just Felix and I.

Oh, but who is Felix? He is one of the sales reps for MS Export, and he's a very cool guy. He recently moved from France to NYC, and I know him because at my most recent f/t cheese job, he would bring cheeses to my manager to try to get her to carry them. She would invite me in on the tasting. Even though I had no official authority over what the place sold, my manager came to value my opinion (thanks, Olga!) and I think in some indirect way, I had a pretty big influence on her decisions. That makes me happy. So, once Felix understood how much of a cheese snob I am, he started bringing in cheeses he knew I'd like, with the hope that I'd give Olga a favorable review of them.

He and I really hit it off. He's probably about my age, and we both love cheese. 'Nuff said.

So, we were happy to see each other at the show. Felix knew I was no longer employed by the last place, but he still made me sit down for a private cheese tasting. There really was no business benefit to that; I'm in charge of purchasing for exactly nowhere. So his generosity and hospitality are even more thoughtful.

Here's what we ate:
Coeur Gourmand with Fig: This is one in a line of fresh goat chevres with a jam-filled center. Along with fig, there's also apricot, chestnut, and a few others I can't think of at the moment. These are made in Perigord, France, where most folks have fig and chesnut trees in their backyards. This is also the part of France where one can find truffles.

Coeur Gourmand are hand-made: a layer of curds are hand-ladled into the molds, then a spoonful of jam is placed in the center, then more curds are hand-spooned around the jam and on top of the jam, forming a nice little puck, probably about 4-6 oz. There is no rind, and the cheese is bright-white. It has a very clean taste; it's mild, sweet, and lightly buttery. No goatiness, but there's a hint of grassiness at the finish that says, "this is made from goat's milk."

I remarked to Felix that this would make a delightful breakfast cheese, and he literally jumped up off of his chair he was so happy to hear me say that. He explained that all during the show, when he'd sample this cheese to people, telling them of its suitability as a breakfast cheese, they wouldn't believe him and get a sort of disgusted look on their faces. What is wrong with these people?! This is why I have enjoyed talking with most French people I've met: we seem to understand each other when it comes to food. My Great-Great-(Maternal) Grandmother was French; perhaps this explains it. My Great-Great-(Maternal) Grandfather was Spanish. Perhaps this explains why I'm so pissed about Manchego. And I'm more German than anything, which explains everything else.

Next we tried Fromagerie Soreda's Gourmandise Soreda, which has absolutely nothing with "Gourmandise," the processed, cherry-flavored cheese from France (no, I'm not making that up). These are delightful fresh chevres from another Perigord chevre producer. Most fresh French chevre comes from the Loire Valley, as that's where the Saracens left their goats about eleven-hundred years ago. However, Perigord has some nice goat cheeses. These little chevres are molded into tiny balls and leaves. No rind, very fresh.

We tried one sprinkled with tarragon, which in French is "estragon." My goodness, it's as if tarragon and fresh chevre were made for one another. Last night I was reading an essay in Jeffrey Steingarten's second book, "It Must've Been Something I Ate," about why and how MSG works, and he said that there are many foods in the world that are like natural forms of MSG; they perform some sort of synergy, and enhance the savory qualities of other foods. Some seaweed falls into that category, as do sun-dried tomatoes and Parmigiano cheese. I say tarragon and chevre have that sort of relationship, as the tarragon magnifies all that's good about a very fresh chevre.

Next we tried one dusted with curry powder, which is another excellent companion for fresh chevre. It has the same effect, but not as synergistic (but pretty damn close); and whereas the curry powder provided a warming synergy, the tarragon gave it a cooling effect. This was a really fun discovery, and it still makes me happy to put something in action that I read only last night.

Next, Felix cut into a big, 500 gram wheel of St. Patrick. No, it's not Irish, and as far as I know, it does nothing to rid a land of snakes. It's a triple-creme from Bourgogne. Whereas most triple-cremes are covered with a bloomy rind, this one is fresh and naked. (Sounds like some of my old boyfriends. Oops!) This would make another delightful breakfast cheese, especially for those who believe the day should begin with protein and fat. It's creamy but not goopy, and rich but not heavy. I tasted a sort of minerally thing in the beginning, and that was followed by a lactic astringency, and the second-to-last flavor was faint horseradish, finishing with a balanced, salty tang and the slightest hint of mushroom. Nice.

Felix also broke out the Ossau-Iraty (AOC), this one is called Fromi. It's raw milk (Felix said he knew better than to bring out an aged, pasteurized cheese for me - aw, shucks!), and as is appropriate to its appellation, is from the Basque country. The Ossau-Iraty cheeses are one of my favorite cheese types: regardless of their age, so many of them have such a beautiful balance, delightful complexity, and a combination of flavors that creates a whole new flavor that I can't give a name to. Fromi was no exception.

Next up was Tomme du Fedou, another raw sheep cheese. In a perfect display of the difference terroir makes, this one was vastly different from Fromi. Fedou is from Causse Mejean, located between Roquefort and Auvergne. It's on a high plateau, and the terrain is better suited for shepherding than cattle-farming. Perhaps because it comes from a high elevation, I thought this cheese was almost like a grassier Alpine cow's milk cheese - it had very similar organoleptic qualities. Pretty amazing, considering it's sheep.

Felix told me the story of Tomme du Fedou: nine "back-to-the-land" sheep dairy farmers had been selling their sheep's milk to a dairy, where it was blended with inferior milk. These folks knew how special their sheep's milk was, so they decided to keep it and begin making cheese. Good choice, I'd say.

Next up was Langres, a classic French washed-rind from Champagne, covered in an orange, bloomy rind. Unlike most washed-rind cheeses, Langres is never turned during affinage, so the bottom stays moist and heavy. It's quite creamy and thick, not runny like many washed-rind cheeses. It's not mild, but its pungency is gentle enough that folks just starting out on washed-rind cheeses will find it easy to love. Langres is identifiable by the divot in the top, with a shape and size appropriate for holding a golf ball. That's not recommended; rather, custom dictates slicing an "x" into the concave divot, pouring a bit of Champagne into the cheese, and baking it for a few minutes. Goodness, I can only imagine.

The last cheese Felix presented was Gres de Vosges, a really fruity, beefy washed-rind from Bourgogne. It's made by a small producer who also makes Munster cheese and Gewurtztraminer wine. This one is oblong, and is covered with a sprig of fern, making a beautiful presentation. It's stronger than Langres, with a higher moisture content, making it run easier.

So in addition to all that other cool stuff, I learned something really awesome from Felix. Many of you are familiar with Tete de Moine, and the tool used to cut it into "flowers," the Girolle. Well, Felix told me that in French supermarkets, one can order Tete de Moine by the piece, or by the flower. Yes, they will make cheese flowers for you. But it gets better: Girolle is a name for a flowery-looking mushroom, just like the way the cheese looks when it's cut with the Girolle.

Next time I'll tell you how I met Ihsan from Formaggio Kitchen and Max McCalman - two cheese superheroes in one day!

Yours in Cheese,
-Wendy M. Levy

Friday, July 07, 2006

An Homage to Henry The Cheeseman

Awhile back I promised more on my cheese mentor, Henry Tewksbury, aka Henry The Cheeseman. In some circles he may be better known by his nomme de cinema, Peter Tewksbury.

If you look him up on the imdb website, you'll see he wrote, directed, and produced quite a few movies and tv shows during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

But our story begins not in California, but in 1995, in a pleasant Vermont town called Brattleboro, in a pleasant food co-op known as The Brattleboro Food Co-Op. This place is not where I was born (NJ is where I'm from), but it is where The Caseophile was born, as it was there that I had my first cheesemonger job. Henry Tewksbury was the head of the cheese department at the time, and although I'm not sure if he ever understood the entirety of his meaning to me, Henry was, is, my mentor. I've learned a ton about cheese since then, but none of my friends, bosses, fellow cheesemongers, etc., have meant as much to me as Henry. Dondi Ahearn holds spot number 2, but for all Dondi's sweetness, passion, and wisdom, Henry will always be The One.

When I first started working for Henry, someone told me of his Hollywood past. I had no idea. Being a naturally blunt and curious person, I went to work and asked him about it. Now, Henry generally was a cheerful fellow, able to smile through, or ignore, quite a bit. A few things rankled him, though. At that point, I learned one of them. When I inquired about his Hollywood life (and at that point I hardly knew any of the details), he got very gruff, and answered me rather shortly: "That's in the past!"

Oh. Sorry.

A few years later, however, he could no longer hide his horrible past. The New York Times, of all people, came to do a story on him, specifically about an early-1960s TV show he directed that had achieved cult status: "It's A Man's World." The lid was off, and the article, appearing on January 14, 2001 (the Sunday edition, for those of you keeping track at home), outed Henry as the Hollywood ex-pat he was. Now it was out. The Elvis movies, My Three Sons, Father Knows Best, Disney...

Our Henry? Our good-natured Cheeseman? He hardly seemed like the Hollywood asshole type. Perhaps that's why we had him, and they lost him.

Once the article appeared, I suppose Henry decided to roll with it, because he became much more chatty about his past. Now he still played it close to the vest regarding his personal life, (for instance, twice I asked him how many children he had, and here were the answers I received: "Too many," and, "A whole basket-full." The actual answer is 6.) but from then on, you could ask him and not get a growling refusal. In fact, once he offered, with no prompting, a story about what a good time he had in Germany filming "Emil and The Detectives," a Disney t.v. film released in 1966.

I asked him how he got from there to here, and the answer is pretty simple: he wanted out of the Hollywood life, and through various adventures, he found his way to Brattleboro. Although he was rather private about his life, he was still a good storyteller who often couldn't resist, and even before his horrible past was revealed, he seemed to take delight in telling me of his "16 careers," including running a school, providing voice acting for cartoons, raising cows, being a sportscaster on the radio (pre-television), and I think selling furniture, if my memory serves me.

Henry was someone who seemed to need a project, who couldn't stand to be bored, and this, in addition to the passion he brought to cheese, is what makes him my mentor, even though it's in absentia, because we lost Henry in 2003.

At the time I began working for him, the Vermont artisan-made cheese movement was just starting. This was 1995, when Cindy and David Major had only been making VT Shepherd for 2 years. (wow.) A lot of the cheese we carried is what I now consider to be commodity cheeses, as they are mass-produced in factories. But then, that was pretty much all we had, and it was all new and exciting to me.

But, whenever there was word of a new local cheesemaker, Henry made sure to sell their cheeses. And whenever there was word of something exciting coming from abroad, Henry made sure we had it.

I had only been working at the cheese counter for a few weeks when one night, an hour or two before closing, two fellows from Neal's Yard Dairy showed up to talk to me about farmstead cheese. They probably wanted to talk to Henry, but I was the only one there, so in-between helping customers and cutting and wrapping Finlandia Swiss, I looked at big pictures of cows and delighted in cheese-related conversation with charming Englishmen. At the time, I thought we were just having a nice visit. In hindsight, this was one of those pivotal moments that hooked me, because there were stories behind these wheels and blocks of cheese. (I was a Sociology major. I needed stories to make sense of the world.)

Henry was perhaps the first authority figure in my life who displayed a strong sense of fairness, compassion, and patience. We weren't his employees. We were human beings who had families, school, health concerns, and a need for full lives. He understood when "something came up" and I couldn't be at the cheese counter. Because when I was there, which was for the better part of 8 years, I was more "there" than anywhere else I'd been in my life. I wanted to taste every cheese. When I was cutting something, I leaned down and smelled it. This was during the days before mandatory gloves, and I wanted to touch every cheese, to understand its texture. (Henry hated gloves, and fought very hard to exempt us from having to wear them. His arguments are valid: people follow less strict sanitary practices when they are wearing gloves, because gloves give off the sometimes false impression of cleanliness. Frequent hand-washing is a better practice. Alas, he lost that battle.)

Henry wasn't a mean person, and he was perhaps the best-known and -loved person in the area because of his bright and friendly nature, but he would not take any bullshit whatsoever, and when a voice needed to be raised, he'd raise it. But those were rare occurences, and when they happened, we who were under him whispered about it for weeks. Usually the outrage was directed toward the co-op's upper management and their ill-advised mandates. This only made us cheesemongers appreciate Henry further. He had unmistakable leadership qualities, but he himself seemed to have little respect for self-proclaimed authority figures who had done little to earn that power.

I don't want to get too much into Henry's passing, because it's still hard for me to deal with. I was on the road to New Orleans at the time, and I missed his funeral. I am still having a hard time forgiving myself for not turning around and driving back up to VT to pay my last respects.

But I did pay my respects at the Society of St. Anne's March to the Mississippi River on Mardi Gras Day, during a yearly ritual for that very thing: to remember those who we've lost in the past year. I had one copy of Henry's last Weekly Cheese Bulletin with me - when I heard Henry died (but before his funeral was announced), I frantically went into the co-op to see if I could get a copy of it. I got one, because I knew I was going to New Orleans and I knew I was marching with St. Anne's, and I knew I might have only had that opportunity to pay my respects to Henry.

I wrote him a little note on the back of his last bulletin, the one where he complained about having to type the thing with one hand because something had gone wrong with the other hand. (The problem with his hand was the result of a stroke. It took more than that to keep Henry from doing what he loved.) When we went to the River, I got up to the front of the line, so I was as close to the river as the bottom step would allow me. I took the paper from my bag, I read it to myself one more time, and I placed it on the surface of the water. The River carried it somewhere. Hopefully somewhere where Henry could read it.

I didn't take two copies of Henry's last bulletin. That's another regret I have.

Yours in Cheese,
-Wendy M. Levy

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Trips and Quick Cheese

Cheese Excursion

Today I visited three more cheese-related places.

Murray's on Bleecker St.
I used to work there. If anyone happens by either shop (Bleecker or Grand Central), go in and read the signs; I wrote the copy for 98% of them, cheese and non-cheese, give or take a few. The way you can tell which ones are mine is very easy: the good ones are mine, the "eh" ones were written by someone else. haha.

I may do some freelance work with them in the near future. That would be fun. I miss a lot of things about that store. I appreciate and respect their contributions to the world of cheese, and I'd love to work with them again, but on a consultant/freelance basis, as that is my life now. I also miss some of the people who work there. I had a lot of fun with my co-workers, and I'd love to see more of them. Just not every day. Ah, the life of the freelancer.

Right now Murray's is doing a really cool "Tour de France" promo: they are following the Tour's progress vis-a-vis cheese. How's that? Well, they promote a daily cheese that comes from the current location of the Tour. Are the bicyclists in Bourgogne? Then Murray's will feature Epoisses, et al. I think it's a cute idea. I don't see it on the website, but you can find it in the store.

I finally went to see what all the fuss is about at the new Balducci's store on 8th and 14th. The store is very nice. The space is weird, though. Since it's in the old bank building, it has HIGH vaulted ceilings. The square footage of the store isn't small, but the height of the ceiling makes the sales floor seem smaller than it really is. It's a weird effect. Check it out and let me know if you feel it, too.

Anyway, it's a lovely store - almost cathedral-like in its light and air. They have some interesting food items that I haven't seen anywhere else. The meat case looked fresh and well-maintained. The cheese department was fairly comprehensive, but I wanted it to be a little more imaginative. Mind you, I'm The Cheese Snob. I wanted to see cheese I'd never seen before. But that's a lot to ask considering my pedigree. So, I mean that as no slight at all. Most folks who shop there are probably very happy with their selection, as it is pretty big. I'd just like to see more artisan-made cheeses and less of the commodity basics. I'm so jaded. I know.

Their signage needs help. They need me. More on that later.

Whole Foods - Union Square
Yes, it's taken me this long to go there. Part of my reason has to do with my support of the Union Square Greenmarket. And I haven't even been there this year! (Hello, new schedule. Hooray, new schedule.) Anyway, I wanted to see what they were up to, because I know most Whole Foods have a decent cheese department.

My friend Brian works at the Chelsea Whole Foods (stop by and say hello to him), so I've been to that one quite a few times. I hate to break the news to Brian, but the Union Square cheese department is MUCH nicer. The selection is better, and the cheeses look better taken care of.

Their signage is pretty good. I might go back and grill their counter people to determine if they know enough about cheese. If they don't, I will swoop in.

Quick Cheese Quotes

Last week I received two very funny cheese-related comments.

The first was from my former co-worker, Larry Zilko. He's the Computer Commander at Zabar's. As seems to be with most Computer Commanders, he is odd and funny. If there is an odd question that stumps me, Larry has usually asked it. We were talking about lactose intolerance, whey, and ricotta cheese. I was explaining that when cheese is made, the curds clump together and the whey drains off. Larry asked me what happens to the whey, and I told him some people drink it, it's sometimes reheated to make ricotta, or it's thrown away. So, here's Larry's million-dollar question that made me laugh so hard I promised I'd put it in this blog:
"Is it called 'whey' because you throw it away?"

Later on that day, I was talking on the phone with my friend Marc Kehoe, an incredible artist and designer. We were talking about our respective states that day, and both of us were feeling rather sleepy. Marc is given to making almost lysergic pronouncements now and again, and this was his offering on that tired day:
"I wish I had a nap pillow filled with Gorgonzola. It would have a straw coming out of it, so when I wake up from my nap, I could have Gorgonzola cheese go right into my mouth."

I can't top that. So I won't even try.

Yours in Cheese,
-Wendy M. Levy

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Exploding Cheese

Cheese on Vacation
I'm back from vacation. Of course I brought cheese with me. I didn't eat it all, because I wanted to make sure I had something to eat when I got home.
Here's what I brought:
  • Aged Gruyere - classic Alpine from Switzerland. Raw cow's milk. Nutty, fruity, with a little barnyard for good measure.
  • Pecorino Crotonese - one of those Italian sheep's milk cheeses that needs to get as much, if not more, attention than Pecorino Toscano and Pecorino Romano. Robust and savory, with a tanginess that reminds me of the smell of tomato plants.
  • Fromagerie Soreda Taupiniere w/Paprika - not all French chevres come from the Loire Valley. This one is from Perigord; yup, that's truffleville. Nice fresh chevre shaped like a mole hill, dusted with paprika. It's one of those fresh chevres that will make you swear off the acrid, vac-packed mush that passes for chevre in too many places.
  • Monte Enebro - lots of cheesemongers list this Spanish goat as one of their favorites. Sadly, it was unavailable for about 6 months. I need to learn more about its seasonality - was that the issue, or was the FDA being a pest again? Anyway, this is a semi-aged goat cheese, in the shape known as pata de mulo (leg of the mule), is covered with a beautiful array of molds, giving it a dry, piquant flavor and a striking appearance.
  • Chabichou - speaking of the Loire Valley, this is one of those French chevres that serves as a reliable standby for cheese snobs. This time of the year they get good (starting in late-Spring, really), as the goats are on the browse and out of the barn, where all they ate was blah silage all winter. Chabichou is a thin barrel, just a few inches tall. The exterior is a wrinkled, ivory-colored rind, looking sort of like brains. As it matures, the flaky, moist paste firms up, and turns from fresh and lactic to assertive and minerally.

I think that's it.


Cheese Excursion

Today I took a trip down to Essex St. Market on the LES of NYC. I had never been there, but I had three reasons for going today: cheese, cheese, and cheese.

1. Cheese: My friend and former co-worker, Anne Saxelby, opened Saxelby Cheesemongers a few months ago.

Anne and I worked together at Murray's, and she and I both went out on our own to do big cheese-related things. I had yet to visit her, and since going to the beach was out of the question today (thunderstorms and sunbathing are a bad combo), I decided to see what she was up to.

What a great shop she has! Anyone who thinks American cheese consists solely of orange slabs individually ensconced in plastic needs to take the F to Delancey and hop over to see Anne. Her store offers the best of artisan-made American cheeses.

Hey people, yesterday was Independence Day! Isn't that reason enough to see Anne and get some USA fromage?

No? Okay, how about Square Cheese from Vermont's Twig Farm: an aged goat tomme (yes, it's square-shaped) with a rind just like Garrotxa. Anne and I could think of no other cheese with that rind anywhere in the world, and we're puzzled by how Twig Farm did it. Think of the just-sprouted antlers of a young deer, and the short-napped fur surrounding those antlers, and that's the feel of the battleship-grey, moldy rind surrounding Twig Farm's Square Cheese. It's damn savory, too, tasting as if the goats got into the onion patch.

Anne also has dairy products from the Evans Family Farm, organic since 1999. Go to her website for more info on a benefit she's putting on to send The Evanses to the Slow Food convention in Italy. And go to the benefit party! I'll be there.

2. Cheese: Essex St. Cheese Co. is the creation of Daphne Zepos and Jason Hinds.

Cheese cognoscenti may recognize Zepos from her previous post as Director of Affinage at Artisanal. Anyone who has ever enjoyed farmhouse cheeses from the British Isles should give thanks to Hinds, as he directed the export division of Neal's Yard Dairy. Not a bad pair, eh?

They've teamed up to bring fantastic Comte to the USA. Comte is one of the most popular cheeses in France, and it's made only from the raw milk of Montbeliard cows. It's in the Alpine family - think nutty, sweet, savory, fruity, milky, mmm - and it's close cousins with Gruyere. I believe Essex St's Comte is aged about 18 months. Daphne and Jason are selling it retail and wholesale out of their shop at Essex St, but when I went there, they were closed. Maybe they were in Jura. I'll go back again and see them.

3. Cheese: My friend and former co-worker, Chris Munsey (another caseophile), told me that Ihsan, the owner of the formidable Formaggio Kitchen (Cambridge, Mass.) is opening a cheese shop at Essex St.

I wasn't sure if it was open, and when I got to Essex St., I found out that not only was it open (about 2 weeks now), but it also is in today's
NYTimes Food Section. Max Shrem, the manager of the Essex St shop, is shown in the picture, towering over the cheeses.

The shop has an excellent Laguiole, a Reggiano only they import (it's explosively fruity, like perfect, ripe berries), and a lovely cheese I've never heard of called Vermont Ayre. It's cow's milk, and reminiscent of Tomme de Savoie. Very nice. It's made in Whiting, Vermont, which is in Addison County, and is located sorta kinda by Middlebury. (An aside: I left Vermont in 2003. Since then, there's been an explosion - yes, there's that word again - of artisan cheesemakers in the state. Every time I turn around, there's a new farmstead cheese from a new Vermont farmstead cheesemaker. I'm so happy! Go to The Vermont Cheese Council's webpage and track down every single one of those cheeses. Yes, that's an order.)

Max is very friendly, sweet, and helpful. He'll let you try all sorts of cheeses, and I even got a sample of German Speck while I was there. No, it's not cheese, it's cured meat. The shop is small, but well-maintained, and their variety of fine cheeses and other hard-to-find foods is impressive.


Cheese Explosion
Cheese really is exploding. Not as in "bomb" but as in "rocket." Per capita consumption in the US is hovering somewhere around 31 lbs. per year. (Some perspective: in France, it's about 50 lbs per capita.) The trade papers report that not only is there an increase in cheese consumption in general, but there's an increase in consumption of imported and artisan-made cheeses.

This is good news for The Caseophile and my ilk. This is a good time to be in cheese, especially in NYC. In the past few years, I've met a handful of passionate, dedicated cheese people, many of them around my age (32). There's definitely an Old Guard and a New Guard, and lots of cheese-related wisdom is being passed down from the Old Guard, and a lot of passion is being passed up from the New.

I think it's time for us NY-based Cheesemongers to band together. I propose forming The New Amsterdam Cheesemonger's Guild. What will our purpose be? To promote excellent cheese, to provide a support network, and to have a hell of a good time doing it. Who's with me?

Yours In Cheese,