Friday, April 16, 2010

Adventures in Cheese-buying

Blue Apron in Park Slope is quickly becoming my favorite cheese store in the city. They have a great selection of cheeses and it is close to my house in Brooklyn.

This time I got Fleur Vert, I use it as a substitute of cream cheese. Love it on toast in the morning. It is a fresh goat cheese enveloped in fresh herbs and juniper berries. Tangy, herbal, with a very green flavor.

Cheese selection @ Blue Apron Foods - Park Slope (Brooklyn, NY)

Adventures in Cheese-buying

I know that D&D played a key roll in bringing fine cheese to the US under the direction of Steven Jenkins, but lately their selection looks really old (stale). The cheddar's that they have from Neal's Yard looks really abused (meaning mis-handeled).

This is happening in a couple of places around the city, I think the slow recovery of the economy is still impacting cheese sales making it more difficult to move big quantities of expensive European cheese. The problem is that many of the big cheese stores are only able to make a profit because they buy big volumes at a discount - economies of scale. The trade-off is that if they cannot sell their inventories all their cheeses sit on shelves for longer periods of time. Stores are not a good environment for cheese, as they are normally too dry and most cheeses need regulated moisture in the environment to not crack or become old. Once a cheese is open, it is really difficult to keep in good shape in over-refrigerated environments.

A way to prevent that the selection looks old, is to have a good team of cheesemongers (no attitude is important) to take care of the cheese, but also to approach inexperienced customers that would like to buy something but are unsure about what to get. Good knowledgeable staff is difficult to come buy, specially when sales are low, however there are ways to ensure that your employees help sell more cheese. A good way is to give them a good environment to work (benefits, breaks, job stability) - if mongers are happy they will sell more cheese. I know this from experience. Sheridan's Cheesemongers in Ireland is a great little company that cares for its employees and when I was there it was easy to sell cheese because people weren't worry about their job.

Dean and Deluca is still a good option to get cheese, they are conveniently located in the city and have good quality. They just need to ensure that cheesemongers are happy, approachable and they will do the rest by selling more cheese. Their cheese needs more attention and love.

Cheese selection @ Dean and Deluca -SoHo (New York, New York)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2010 World Cheese Awards

The 2010 World Cheese Awards takes place at BBC Good Food, Birmingham, UK 24-28 November.

For more information visit the 2010 World Cheese Awards page.

If you are interested in sponsoring this leading dairy event click here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The High and Low Politics of Cheese

The cheese talk at the New School went great. I got great questions and examples from the students. However, I was surprised that only a bunch of them knew about production of milk by conglomerates. After all, I would have guessed that most of them would have watched Food Inc. or read one of the many popular books on food culture. My surprise was that these students are in a Food Studies program, and I would have guessed that they would be more aware of the contemporary discussions about food safety.

I cannot explain what this means, but sure I can think of a couple of reasons of why some people are so involved with these discussions, while others seem to have missed those news reports about recalls of contaminated foods. Perhaps is the fact that so far the dairy industry has been careful enough to avoid a major outbreak of listeria or other related sickness from contaminated milk. I am not saying that milk produced by conglomerates is contaminated, but that there are some cautionary warnings from the way other products in our food supply have suffered that could point to potential risk in milk production as well, including treatment of animals, feed, and worker’s rights.

Some people that I have talked about this mentioned that a lot of the discussions about food safety are perceived by a majority to be a very complicated issue better to be left to experts, while they worry about how to “pay the bills.” This I call the high politics argument (I am a PhD Politics student after all). Others have mentioned that while people are aware of the issues, there is not much that the common person can do and better not to worry about it much and hope for the best. A good friend of mine called this "the politics of consumer choice - those politics that I can only act on in the supermarket aisle." These are the "low politics of cheese." The distinction is not economic, but rather substantive about how to approach food culture.

My concern is how do we connect the two? What needs to happen / or is already happening that would allow us to connect our consumer choices with the necessary changes at the macro food level to ensure that we have healthy options for all while at the same time we provide food that is safe? Maybe the solution really is more local production, and sure I am a supporter of it.

However, the kids in my class seem unconvinced. I guess there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cuttting the cheese

As you may have guessed by now, I am trying to be serious about cheese; this normally means reading, tasting, and immersing myself more and more in the world of cheese. Another way of being serious about it is by teaching classes and trying to expand my knowledge by hearing what other people have to say while teaching. This is why I keep taking classes at Murray's Cheese and at any other places that offer new topics. NYC is great for that as so many of the cheese stores have an educational program.

However, this time I am doing something different. I will be teaching a condensed version of my Cheese Politics class at the New School. My friend Maya is teaching Food Politics here and invited me to talk about Cheese as a food full of politics.
As a good Academic, I consider this opportunity unique. Not only because it is at my graduate institution, but because the topics that I hope to explore are different. The first difference with my other classes is that this one won't have a tasting component. That is really difficult when talking about a food that it is so much about the smell, the texture, and the flavor. However, what I hope to do is to talk about cheese as a political process, not just the making and aging of it, but also all the decisions that are taken in its commercialization, consumption, popularization, and fame.

I hope to learn as much as I hope to teach this group of students. I will have a full report on it, as I think it will be a great tool to understand how people see cheese not just as a food to enjoy, but also a food with a cultural/political baggage.

On a different topic: The knives and cheese cutting utensils are mine. I was cleaning them over the weekend and took a picture of them for the blog, but didn’t know how to use it. Here they are for your reference. I know the names of some of them, but not all. If you recognize them post their names in the comments.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Adventures in Cheese-buying

The great thing about Formaggio is that they go for depth in their selection. While other cheese stores have all the staples and the big names in cheese. Formaggio's takes it one step beyond and finds rare, small, and really unique cheeses from Europe.

They are one of my favorite cheese stores in America (the one in Cambridge is best, but NY is good too). I have great loyalty for them, as I took my first cheese class with one of their guys and they are from Massachusetts (my adoptive America home state).

Cheese selection @ Formaggio - Essex Market (New York, NY)