Posts Filed Under The ‘Artisanal Cheese News’ Category

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

For All the Milk in China

If you are experiencing sticker shock looking at cheese prices today, just be glad you’re not buying your favorite cheeses in Shanghai or here in the United States five years hence. As Chinese citizens continue to acquire a taste for western foods and beverages (read: cheese and wine) the prices for quality wines have risen; the price of many of the best known cheeses will certainly rise as well. Their per capita cheese consumption is still far lower than ours but in a country with four times the population of the United States and a doubling of cheese consumption every seven years (compared to our trebling of consumption in forty years) we expect cheese price inflation to be inevitable. Import of French cheeses and wines has been strong; eventually this will occur with other great cheese and wine producing countries, including the United States.

One might ask why China cannot satisfy its cheese appetite from domestic producers. With the growing dairy industry in that country we might assume they would be better able to fulfill demand. As it now stands, part of the problem is that milk prices are higher in China than elsewhere. There is a perception that imported cheese is superior to domestic cheese.

Sound familiar?

A huge problem with the Chinese dairy industry is the concern with quality: poor production practices, inadequate milk collection, a lack of technical expertise, and outdated technologies and equipment. This is all changing but there is a lingering perception that Chinese dairy products are inferior and unsafe. Several recent dairy related food safety incidences have hurt the domestic industry while causing a surge in imports. Granted, much of what is imported is powdered milk product and liquid milk, not cheese. As the taste for the best things in life take hold in China, as well as the rest of Asia, this will change.

Max McCalman

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

NASFT Winter Fancy Food Show, the floral components

 

Back to San Francisco for the annual Fancy Food Show; it is a nice town to visit any day of the year but for those of us living in the northeast it also gives us a chance to thaw out a little. We have several more weeks to go before we’ll see any daffodils around here so the Golden State will be a welcome sight. About the only living flowers we are seeing here in New York now are the ones that are growing on the rinds of our cheeses and sausages. Maybe not quite as colorful as an English garden but they look gorgeous nonetheless, at least to some of us.

Recently we had a customer call who was concerned about the molds (read: flowers) growing on a perfectly ripened Sainte Maure, and another concerned about the white mold growing on one of our Country Sausages. These concerns would not be voiced in most parts of the world, yet here in the States we have been cautioned to reject that that does not look uniform, perfectly cylindrical, and free of any blemishes, even barnyard aromas. How far we have gotten away from the farm!

It is apparent that our high school biology classes have skirted around the diversity-of-life studies and have instead taught us that anti-bacterials, cleanliness-is-next-to-godliness regimens, and near-sterile environments are the choices we should make. The recent research on our biomes is, to put it mildly, a little difficult to swallow, especially after having received the fear-mongering assaults on biodiversity received in basic Biology. Sadly, the same hysteria lingers into higher education. The first clue some people receive regarding biomes comes in undergraduate Symbiosis classes. Maybe it is not as bad with some of today’s Biology intro courses but the overarching fear of other living forms does seem to persist. Anti-bacterial soaps are ubiquitous, almost impossible to avoid.

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Given a choice between a cheese that is perfectly cylindrical and white, and one that looks a bit misshapen and dotted with molds, I will go for the latter. The former cheese may be perfectly  edible but I invariably prefer the ones that appear to have some life in them. Better to have a cheese that is supporting a “garden” than one that is barely breathing.

Max McCalman

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Master Series

The first Master Series of 2014 will be offered here at our new facilities in Long Island City, February 23rd & 24th. The series will be intensive, covering various aspects of the cheese world, all the way from cheese making to pairing with wines. This series promises to be a special one, as students will witness some of the final stages of assembly of our new facilities.
Back when we opened our old plant on Manhattan’s west side we were at the cutting edge in the industry: with our five cheese-maturing caves, production facilities, and our lovely events & education room. The industry has evolved and what was state-of-the-art in 2003 is now only sufficient, at least as far as affinage (cheese maturing) is concerned. Our production area was suitable too, yet only for the first couple of years after opening. It soon became apparent that we would require more space to work with our cheeses, larger caves, in order to keep up with the rising demand for our high-quality cheeses.
I often recommend that tight spaces are best for cheeses, up to a point. It is far easier to maintain cheeses in smaller spaces than larger one: the proper humidity, temperature, air exchange and microflora. I recall seeing the cheese caves in restaurants around the US in the early aughts; almost all of them were too large for the sizes of those operations. It is valuable to keep in mind that a little bit of cheese goes a long way. So our own fully packed cheese caves worked relatively well, the biggest problems were their ventilations. Certain parts of each cave had excessive air exchange while others were practically “dead.” The area outside those caves, the production area, was a little tight too, especially during busier weeks.
Bottom line: Now that we have been at it for over a decade, added to the years working out of the restaurants Picholine and the Artisanal Bistro, we have learned a lot about how to operate a cheese facility of this type. How to get the right product mix, find the top quality in each category, cure the cheeses to their optimal levels of ripeness, wrap them expertly, ship to our customers in good packaging, and provide the best customer service possible (which includes education).
It seems that there are a myriad of facets to the cheese industry so we will do our best to cover the essentials in this two-day series. We will also be eating quite a lot of cheese. Yum!
Max McCalman

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Calling all Fromagers!

photo 2 e1384293166957 Calling all Fromagers!

The American Cheese Society is accepting applications for its third Certified Cheese Professional exam but you had better apply soon because the application deadline is coming up. That exam will be administered at their annual conference in Sacramento next summer.

Before you get too excited about becoming a CCP let me caution you that there are some eligibility requirements that must be met. This is not a certification for everyone, as great a cheese lover as you may be. In some ways however it is for everyone, at least everyone who has been in the cheese business and still is. In other words, the test is broad-based – it is not only about cheese making.

There are many facets to the wide world of cheese, so if you have been in the business for a while you have probably had at least a little exposure to other areas outside your day-to-day tasks. This is precisely why the certification is so broad. A CCP should have knowledge of other domains within the cheese world, for if she does she will have a better understanding of her product, inside and out.

This is a fundamental goal of the certification: to ensure that cheese is better understood, better cared for, more accurately described, better transported and packaged, more safely handled, more successfully marketed, and that those who work in the industry are more knowledgeable about the new challenges cheese will be facing in the near-future with the full implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Better understanding of all these points will help serve the cheese industry well.

This is not an exam for which you can simply pick up a book, read it through, retain all that you read, then pass the exam. Not even my Mastering Cheese will give you everything you need to know, not even close. No one book will be the one study guide you will need to pass. Hands-on experience counts toward eligibility, both paid and unpaid: work at dairies, creameries and retailers; as well as attending cheese classes and the ACS conferences; writing about cheese; etc.

Many people have applied to take the exam, paid the $35.00 application fee, then fail to take the process seriously. It is a tough exam, very thorough, 150 multiple choice questions, with three hours to take it, yet it is not overly difficult. Just don’t expect to be spoon-fed the entire content of the exam. It is up to the individual to prepare herself for the test. Many applicants have formed study groups and have reported that the process was satisfying and enjoyable.

By the way, once you become certified this does not make you an ACS CCP permanently. You will need to re-certify after three years. Not too difficult to do, so long as you maintain regular involvement in the industry.

Just make sure that you have your eligibility requirements first, then sign up, start studying, and then we’ll see you in Sacramento!

- Max McCalman

Friday, October 18th, 2013

How It All Began…

Max Cheese Cart How It All Began...

Terrance Brennan opened Picholine restaurant in October of 1993, one block east of Lincoln Center. At the time there was a dearth of fine restaurants in the neighborhood: some nice ones here and there but few that were truly exceptional. Terrance honed his culinary skills in southern Europe where cheese is a part of everyday life and “celebrated” as a stand-alone course: the cheese plate. He believed that a superior cheese course should be offered here in New York City as good as the ones he experienced while a young chef in Europe. Terrance wanted to replicate that cheese course experience at Picholine but not until he was assured that the restaurant would survive its first critical year in existence – the one in which nine out of ten restaurants usually close.

Fortunately Terrance is a great chef with a palate that can detect the one missing grain of salt in a Paella or discern the potential of the addition of lemon thyme in a sauce. It was also the “theatre” that attracted his attention to the cheese course. The days of tableside Crêpes Suzettes and Bananas Flambées had long passed and tableside carving of meats or filleting of fish was becoming a little worn out too. A grand presentation of cheeses had enjoyed modest success in New York, and what tableside presentations there were did not qualify as especially “grand.” We rolled out our chariot des fromages with a selection of fourteen cheeses on day one. Within a few weeks that number had nearly doubled.

I was able to hold down both jobs at the start: Fromager and Maître d’Hotel. The cheese program was a near-overnight success however so I was not able to give either of those jobs the full attention required. Naturally, I gave up the Hotel and kept the fromage. It was something new; I had loved cheese all my life anyway, and the Maître d’Hotel job (though well-paying) was far less challenging. That challenge is what caused the selection to grow quickly, and also what ensured the program’s ultimate success.

Well-traveled guests would come in and ask for other cheeses, or they might come in the very next night and say something like: “That selection you had last night was magnificent; what do you have this evening?” or “Do you have Stilton, my favorite?” So it was customer demand that grew the selection. As Terrance would expect with every other menu item, I was entrusted with knowing each of the cheeses. With the many gourmands that Picholine attracted, it behooved me to become as expert as possible, as quickly as possible. Thus began my cheese education.

Within a few months we had guests coming in for the cheese course having read about it in a European newspaper. The food media in New York was enthralled. Terrance is a great chef, no doubt, but there were already more than a handful around town yet none of them was taking the cheese course that seriously. Picholine became a destination for cheese. The New York Times came back in to review the restaurant within a year after the launch of the cheese program and gave the restaurant three stars, highlighting the cheese course in the review. Other restaurants got on the cheese bandwagon eventually, today, the cheese course can be found in most fine dining establishments throughout North America.

As the cheese trolley began to fill up with more and more exquisite cheeses, Terrance decided to install a cheese “cave” based on the expert guidance we received regarding cheese storage. A small walk-in closet was retrofitted into a cheese cave – the first of its kind in a North American restaurant. The installation of the cheese cave was a second “first” for Picholine. The restaurant could claim the first full-time Fromager in the United States, and the first cheese “cave.”

The cave’s tile walls were easy to clean and they helped maintain the proper temperature and humidity levels. This was a single-unit cave set to 50º F and 85% relative humidity, hence similar conditions to what one might find in an actual cave, ideal for storing most cheese types. We did have some concerns about cross-contamination: what if the blue crept into non-blue cheeses?

Fortunately this was not a problem whatsoever; the cheeses moved through this cave at a brisk pace. As the number of cheeses on the trolley increased, so did the excitement, and the check averages in the restaurant increased dramatically. Part of the increase was the cheese but a larger part of it could be attributed to the concomitant beverage sales. Some guests would opt for high-end dessert wines to accompany their cheeses, such as an aged Château d’Yquem. Instead of having one fixed price for a cheese plate (especially with so many to choose from) the prices were set on a scale, depending on how many cheeses the guest desired, from only one to as many as ten.

A three-fold cheese menu was designed so that the guests could follow along with their cheeses set in a progression on their plates. The menu listed as many as eighty cheeses – the ones that were typically available for the season as well as “special appearance” cheeses – with a space to write in tasting notes. The cheese menu was updated every season as the program evolved and as cheeses would come and go. The cheese menu also served as a marketing tool for the restaurant. Many regulars collected these menus from each visit and some claimed to have a wall full of cheese menus. Guests could return and request cheeses that were favorites from their previous visits.

Some guests wanted to purchase extra cheese to take home with them. The cheeses were still priced the same as if they had had them served in the restaurant. There were times when this placed an extra burden on the Fromager, and sometimes the sheer demand for cheese courses in the bustling restaurant would cause a lag time to receive the presentation. A “dance card” was devised for the cheese trolley wherein the captain would write in the table number waiting for cheese service, with a space to make a notation about whatever wine they might be enjoying – this to give the fromager some guidance in the cheese selection recommended. Terrance noted the demand for purchasing cheese to take home and eventually this led to the inclusion of a retail counter at the second restaurant in the group – Artisanal Brasserie et Fromagerie. The additional demand for the high-end top quality cheeses put pressure on the small walk-in cheese cave.

Not long after this first cheese cave in a restaurant was up and running, we had a visit from a literary agent – Angela Miller. Terrance said that I would be the guy to write a book on cheese. Steve Jenkins’ Cheese Primer had been out for a couple of years and since its publication no other books on cheese for the wider market had come out. I worked with Angela on a proposal for a book and within a few months a contract was signed with Clarkson Potter for a book to be entitled The Cheese Plate.

In the meantime, Terrance found a space for a second restaurant on 32nd street off Park Avenue. This new restaurant would be, as its name implies, a cheese-centric restaurant. The Artisanal Brasserie et Fromagerie would be a little less formal than Picholine, and just a little less expensive, with that retail counter included. Instead of the labor-intensive classical cheese trolley service the guests could simply go up to the cheese counter and confer with the fromagers, or the fromager could come to the table and discuss cheese options with the guests, or the guests could simply refer to a cheese menu.

The Artisanal Brasserie et Fromagerie opened in early 2001 to wide acclaim. The interior was designed by Adam Tihany to look like a brasserie in Paris, and indeed it did. The restaurant also had more seating than Picholine, quite a bit more – another reason why the cheese trolley service might be problematic. Having learned from the successes as well as the limitations of the Picholine program, it was evident that one well-functioning cheese cave is good but it would be better to have multiple caves, with each set to specific temperatures and humidity levels for different families of cheeses.

As it turned out, we could have made the space one large cheese depot with much larger caves. We had chefs, restaurateurs, caterers, airlines and others coming into the restaurant just for the cheeses. The restaurant itself was busy too, in a neighborhood that seemed a little tired and where the sidewalks seemed to roll up after dusk. With a growing residential population in the area the opening of the restaurant was welcomed with open arms, and the offices above it and surrounding it made Artisanal their preferred dining room. Of course it made no sense to convert this new and popular restaurant into that cheese depot; instead the idea of a cheese “center” was conceived, with much larger and more state-of-the-art cheese maturing caves, as well as a classroom for teaching classes and for hosting private cheese-themed events.

Within a year of the restaurant’s opening The Cheese Plate was published with a book launch party held on premises. The book became a standard introduction to the world of cheese and a best-seller in the category. Picholine continued to be the cheese destination that it had been, but it catered to a more upscale clientele, Lincoln Center fans and the surrounding neighborhood. Having been the first, Picholine became more of a cheese “shrine” whereas the Artisanal Brasserie & Fromagerie became more of a “cathedral.” If it was the cathedral, there needed to be another unit to manage the aging, distribution and the education component. The need for a classroom was indicated by the popularity of cheese classes in the Big Apple. New Yorkers, as well as many out-of-towners, were becoming increasingly curious about cheese, so the need for a classroom was indicated as another revenue stream.

Daphne Zepos was hired to assist me with this little cheese empire. Picholine’s program often required two fromagers to manage its demand, and on busier nights a third person would be required: the lead fromager would make the initial presentation (following the waiting list on the “dance card”) and a second would then receive the order from the presenter, then the third person would deliver the cheese selections to the guests and go over its contents, and suggest suitable wine partners. The brasserie usually had the same number of fromagers: two at lunch, and three during dinner service. Daphne’s hiring helped grow the program at both restaurants, and she would be called upon to assist with the opening of the center.

The space for the center was acquired in 2002, just one year after the opening of the brasserie. It was a raw space on the second floor of an office building, just one block east of the Jacob Javits Convention Center. At the time the space was acquired the neighborhood was still a little derelict and much-deserving of its name – “Hell’s Kitchen.” Architects and refrigeration experts were brought in to get this new center up and running quickly. The center opened it doors May 3rd, 2003, less than nine months after the space was acquired.

The southwest corner of the facility was dedicated to the storage and deliveries, with the five cheese caves along the south wall, each one with its own temperature and humidity. The production area adjoined these caves, and the customer service and sales offices filled out the southeast side of the center. The offices for accounting, web management, marketing and senior management were positioned along the eastern perimeter, with Terrance’s office in the northeast corner. The classroom was placed along the northern side. There had never been anything quite like it in the United States – a “center” with cheese caves, production facilities, offices for the entire company, and a classroom with a working kitchen for demos. Between the hallway and the classroom there was a reception area for classes and events which also doubled as a conference room for the company.

In addition to the architects, refrigeration experts, and our own team of cheese experts, Terrance retained the talents of a Paris “affineur” as a special consultant on the design, construction, and setup of the cheese caves. Terrance took Daphne with him to see the cheese caves at Alléose in Paris, the fromager and affineur he hired as consultant. They observed the working of their caves as well as their retail space. The process of affinage, the proper ripening of cheese, had been a part of the successes of the restaurants’ cheese programs; with the new center opening it became a much bigger concern.

Daphne also assisted in the design of the class curriculum and taught several classes during her tenure with the company. The classroom remained fairly busy with classes and private events over the ten years Artisanal was based at that location. The Master Series was a course that Daphne and I developed for industry professionals and for persons considering entering the world of cheese. Originally the series was offered on six consecutive Wednesdays; later it was consolidated to three in a row. Compressing the series this way made it easier for people from out of town to attend. The Master Series was offered once a quarter and drew in students from other countries as well as from across North America.

Not long after its opening I was given a contract for a second book, one that would be more of an atlas. Cheese: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best was published in 2005 and won a James Beard Award for Special Subjects. The cheeses included in that book all came from the caves at Artisanal and all the photographs were taken in the classroom. This book went to the top of the category, surpassing the success of The Cheese Plate. Not long after the second book was published, the publisher suggested a third book to be titled Mastering Cheese. This book was to be based on the contents of the Master Series. The publisher budgeted only three hundred thousand words for this book so I had to add a clause after Mastering Cheese – “Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager.” That book was published in 2009 and became a textbook for the Master Series; it later went on to win Best Cheese Book in the World at Paris’ Gourmand Cookbook Awards.

The company continued to expand into markets outside of New York City, all across the United States, with a few international customers in countries without restrictions on this type of overnight cheese shipping. In the early years this was less problematic – shipping cheeses to international addresses – though the cost of shipping cheeses overseas usually exceeded the cost of the cheese itself. Artisanal supplied airlines with fine cheeses that were served in their first class cabins for Europe-bound flights and in their domestic lounges. One customer in Beijing informed us that this was the only way she was able to acquire some of the outstanding cheeses we offered.

As Artisanal’s sales grew steadily from year to year, it became apparent that it would one day outgrow its Hell’s Kitchen facilities. The first indication of growing pains was noted during the first Christmas season after opening. The production team took over the classroom to help manage the flow. From that first year on the classroom would be closed early each December to help manage the heavy volumes.

After the ten year run in that location, it was evident that a new space would be required to manage the growing business with even better state-of-the-art cheese maturing caves. As of this writing, the new Artisanal Cheese Center is being constructed.

- Max McCalman

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Last, But Not Least

10589 Last, But Not Least

Zamorano holds the distinction of being the last cheese in our inventory’s alphabet, for what that may be worth. A name that begins with “z” can be lost, as in a large graduation ceremony. Some cheeses are worth the wait, and Zamorano is certainly one of those. I have had a special fondness for this cheese ever since I first tasted it back in the mid-nineties. From my description in Cheese, a Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best: “This is a noble, ancient, and majestic cheese…a good Zamorano [which is exactly what we have in our caves right now] has the same dignified bearing as Beaufort or Parmesan.”

Zamorano is at its peak this time of year, and will remain so for the next few months. The ones we have now have had sufficient aging but not too much. Even with the extra aging it is still a marvelous cheese, so long as it is one crafted from uncompromised milk. The Zamorano fits into Autumn very nicely, not only because it is at peak but also because it pairs so well with the wines of the season: red Burgundies and American Pinot Noirs, Ribera del Dueros, Alsatian Rieslings, Periquitas, Moulin-à-Vents, as well as Oloroso. Zamorano also pairs well with lighter white wines such as: Albariños and Pouilly-Fumés. Having recently noted how well a similarly-made cheese (Roncal) paired with hard ciders, you can expect there will be some synergies there as well.

Zamorano needs no wine partner; this cheese holds up just fine on its own. I recall thinking how “proud” it was. Please excuse the anthropomorphosis here but the recollection was of a time when another cheese had fallen over onto a wedge of Zamorano. A colleague asked if this might be a problem – that the cheeses were touching. This became a line I would share with my fellow fromagers: the cheeses are touching. I informed the concerned colleague that the Zamorano was “proud” and did not particularly care if another cheese needed its support.

I gave Zamorano a score of “90” in Cheese, a Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best – not sure what I was thinking. Maybe it was because it was the last cheese in the book, kind of like being at the end of a graduation ceremony.

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Mickey Likes Cheese

Viva Italia e1380135902940 Mickey Likes Cheese

Boy does he ever! The first time I was invited to speak at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival was a sell-out, with people lined up around the outside of the Odyssey hoping to squeeze in. What seemed like it might be a routine Cheese and Wine 101 ended up being a major production for the Disney cast. A wine tasting alone is merely that: a “tasting” of wine. When you throw the cheese into the mix the fun (and the work) begins. Cast members who were more familiar with the small pours a wine tasting requires needed a little encouragement. As we know, cheese has a way of bringing out the thirst. While I was busy in the back helping prepare the plates of cheese, the wine was being poured in one ounce portions. This was rectified.

Meanwhile the cheese display on the dais was set up beautifully, with cameras ready to close in on their various textures, ready to relay those close-ups onto oversize monitors. All was coming together fairly well, until the lights came up. Within the first half hour the cheeses were starting to droop; I could see it happening, very distracting. By the end of the tasting even the aged Gouda was looking a little Raclette-like.

The festival gets rolling again this coming weekend and I will be there Saturday morning conducting the first cheese and wine seminar of the 45-day festival. The first week’s cheese and wine seminar will highlight the cheeses and wines of France – a popular session. I return the following weekend for a session focusing on cheeses from here in the U.S. (where most of the cheese excitement is occurring these days) paired with beers – a first for the festival. I have wanted to feature a cheese and beer session for a while (knowing how devoted those beer lovers can be) so we are now able to include one, and in October!

My colleague, Erin Hedley, will present the cheeses of Spain accompanied by Spanish wines on the third Saturday, October 12th. From that weekend on up to the closing day of the festival November 9th, each session will feature wine with the cheeses, each week themed a little differently. The cheeses and wines of Italy will be featured October 19th. Then to include other important cheese countries such as Holland, England, Switzerland and Portugal, the next weekend will feature “old world” cheeses and wines. The United States gets a second session on November 2nd, this time pairing some other great cheeses with Napa valley wines. The final session features cheeses and wines of the Mediterranean, an appealing thought – the Mediterranean – as the evenings become brisk, even in central Florida.

With all these many years of practice you can be assured that there will be no drooping cheeses on the dais and the wine pours will be generous.

- Max McCalman

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

The Waning Days of Sauvignon Blanc

13930 Large e1379958620981 The Waning Days of Sauvignon Blanc

We have enjoyed some lovely weather around New York City for the past several months. After Sandy, we have had little to complain about. During the last few hours of summer it has seemed more like November. The cooler weather is good for many things, including the cheese appetite. It may not be quite as good for the Sauvignon Blanc fans, those that would prefer to have a chilled glass by the side of the pool. For many however, the weather matters little – this varietal is a favorite, even in February.

If other foods rise to the Sauvignon Blanc occasions only sporadically, it is nice to know that cheese can meld well with this grape in greater frequency. The goat cheeses are practically a given. As it turns out, the sheep cheeses favor this varietal too. About the only major cheese family that seems to shun Sauvignon Blanc is the family of blues, unless the wine happens to be one of those rare expressions of a “dessert” Sauvignon Blanc.

So among the goat cheeses you can count on Hoja Santa or Humboldt Fog to pair well with this grape. And from the sheep department the Abbaye de Belloc or the Pecorino Sardo make great partners. A Brillat Savarin (cow) triple crème makes a surprisingly nice mate, and in mixed milk bloomies, try the Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert. The wash rind cheeses can pair well too: try Epoisses, which likes just about any wine you throw its way. One of the bigger surprises is what Sauvignon Blanc can bring out of an older Gruyère or Comté. The phenomenal Cheshire, or one of the great British Cheddars, Westcombe or Keen’s, can marry well with Sauvignon Blanc too.

So as the days of Sauvignon Blanc begin to slip away, you can count on a number of cheeses of all stripes (save for the veined blues, not those stripes) to make for a memorable sunset.

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Wireless Cheese Carrier

cheesewire e1378933222998 Wireless Cheese Carrier

I often carry cheese around with me, sometimes in ziplock bags or in Tupperware type containers, sometimes carefully wrapped in two-ply semi-permeable cheese paper, and/or in a cool thermal lunch box, or in a larger cardboard box. Yesterday I was on my way to speak at the New York City Bar Show with several cheeses in a box, some printed collateral, business cards, and my handy wire cutter.

I was invited to speak at a tasting/seminar about cheese and beer. Had this been a year ago I would have been able to walk the short block from our old location to Javits; now from our temporary quarters in Queens, it took a bit longer. I started prepping by cutting the hard aged Gouda, even though this was going to be the fourth of five cheeses to be tasted. More on that logic in a future posting, or you can reference my first book, The Cheese Plate. Then I cut the Beeler Gruyère into rectangular shapes; this the third cheese to be tasted; then the Keen’s Cheddar — a little less hard than the Gruyère. Keen’s was the second cheese in the lineup, then the first cheese: Appleby’s Cheshire. Everything had been going well up until this point. All the harder cheeses were cut beautifully and laid out onto paper plates. Then with the softer Cheshire the wire on my cutter snapped.

The moment a wire breaks is always a little jarring for me. Here I am with more than 60% of the cheese sliced and plated then the wire breaks. Alors! What compounded the problem was that I did not have a replacement wire. I was wireless. The harder cheeses are often the ones that cause these wires to snap, not a moist cheese like a Cheshire. Earlier I had observed one of my colleagues cut into a wheel and decided right then and there to replace another cheese with this marvelous specimen of Cheshire. By the way, the Cheshire paired admirably with each of the ales, no surprise there.

So here we are with less than fifteen minutes to go before the start of the seminar, and I am wireless. No replacement and not enough time to go back to our facilities in Queens, and I had no knife.

So how does one cut cheese without a wire or a knife?

I still had the broken wire. There was no other choice but to wrap the wire around one finger and pull it through the remaining Cheshire and then through the last cheese, the Stilton. Fortunately these two cheeses are a little soft, otherwise I would be cutting my finger, not the cheeses.

I usually remember to bring extra wires. I will make a point of having backups with me from here on out.

If you are not familiar with one of those wire cutters I have to say it is a cheese guy’s most valuable tool. Precise cuts of cheese can be made, better than the cuts you can make with a knife. The handy wire cutter is often included in my checked luggage; each time it’s there I get a note from TSA. As many times as I have flown from LGA with my cutter, you would think they’d recognize it by now.

- Max McCalman

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Artisanal Cheese at the 2013 NYC Bar Show

13933 Large Artisanal Cheese at the 2013 NYC Bar Show

A.K.A. The Holiday Buying Show, this show will be held at the Javits Center Monday and Tuesday, September 9th & 10th. Susan Greene asked me to join her there Monday afternoon to speak about cheese and beer. We will also taste some cheeses and beers in addition to discussing them.

These two ferments have been enjoyed together for millennia, though in Mastering Cheese I referred to their pairing as “…an exciting new frontier.”

I suppose I may have intended to make the following point with that statement — that the pairing of cheese and beer has not been explored so much as it has simply been an everyday pleasure. That seems to be the case here in the United States. And here, by the way, it seems to be all about the pairings these days. So you would think that this would have been fully studied.

Not to take the fun out of the experience but there are some fundamental principles of food and beverage pairings that apply. I have always been intrigued in the “why” of pairings. Detection of what is working well together is one thing: fairly straight-forward with some allowances for personal preferences. This level of subjectivity is one reason why I don’t buy into the “tasting” practices where you are given one cheese to go with one beverage, then a second cheese to go with a second beverage, etc. I would rather let my own palate decide what works, thank you, and not be told that this or that is the right pairing. I prefer to approach the tasting of foods and beverages as more of a laboratory, with as many combinations as I can possibly assess.

Our beer expert friend, Herr Frederik Bohn, insists that beer and cheese pairings definitely offer greater variety than cheese and wine pairings.

We’ll see about that, and also try to figure out why at Javits on Monday.

- Max McCalman