Sunday, June 20, 2010

Adventures in Cheese-buying

This cheese store in Williamsburg has an impressive selection.

However, it is my least favorite of all the cheese stores in the city. The two reasons for this, are 1) it is expensive and 2) the cheesemongers are terrible at explaining anything about the cheese.

For me a bad cheesemonger ruins the whole experience of buying cheese. The problem is that most of the mongers here seem to be more interested in their own knowledge, rather than on educating the consumer. The clientele here seems to appreciate that, but to me this translates into a place that can overcharge for cheese as people are more interested in the consumer experience than in enjoying and learning about cheese.

I know this is really harsh, but while I know it is difficult to find committed people to be mongers, it is also true that if you provide a work environment that is nice and make mongers feel comfortable in their work they will turn into loyal promoters of your store.

Having been a monger myself, I know that sometimes it is difficult to deal with customers. However, my manager was so awesome at being supportive, making me tea after a bad customer or taking over an abusive one, that it was always easy to take care of the next person with a smile.

I got Stilcheton and Tomme de Berger - I went for these two, because I knew what to expect and that way I could just go in and out of the store.

Cheese selection @ Bedford Cheese Shop - (Brooklyn, NY)

Adventures in Cheese-buying

The great thing about the selection at Whole Foods is that it is cheaper than in many other places. The problem is that their mongers are not the best trained and so they let the cheeses dry, crack, or age too much.

This time I didn't get anything because the line was insanely long, but I normally go to Whole Foods to buy things that are going to be used within the week to cook.

Cathy Strange is the Global Cheese-buyer for Whole Foods. She is a great person, who I got to meet in the Canary Islands for the 2009 World Cheese Awards. You can follow her on twitter @WFMCheese.

Cheese selection @ Whole Foods (Bowery) - (New York, NY)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New York City

I moved to NYC four years ago. I was coming from living in Ireland, working for Sheridan's Cheesemongers in Galway, and studying a Master's of Laws. I already knew a lot about European cheese, but was not aware of the cheese revolution in the US.

Before I left the emerald island, my fellow cheesemongers in Ireland gave me two amazing presents. One was a cheesemaking class with Silke Cropp in county Cavan to make Corleggy and the second was a gift certificate for - what they said was one of the best cheese stores in the US - Murray's Cheese.

I arrived in the city and after settling in my new life, I checked out their website and got excited about all the classes that they had. Immediately, I called to introduce myself and the amazing Nora Singley asked me if I wanted to help out as an assistant in the classroom. Soon after I was assisting classes every week. A couple of months later, Zoe Brickley (former Cave manager) started looking for apprentices for the caves and me and Svetlana Kukharchuk-Redpath started interning three times a week.

It was there in the cold caves underneath Bleecker Street, with the guidance of Zoe, Nora, Pedro and Joaquin that I learnt about affinage, cutting perfect pieces, and tasting for perfect ripeness.

After that time, other great people at Murray's helped me learn more about cheese. Liz Thorpe, Taylor Cocalis, Louise Geller and Chris Munsey among many others. They all became part of my New York City experience.

But before this becomes a list of the people that you may not know. Let me tell you what is the purpose of this post. I write this as a public acknowledgement to the unsung heroes of the city. It is also a semi-goodbye to a city that has been good to me.

NYC is for better or worse one of the nodal points of the world. I call it this instead of a “world capital,” “the center of the universe,” or any other cliché term, because to me the city is exactly that - a big point of connection among many smaller places.

Those smaller (and bigger places) are the places where cheese is made, matured, and sold. The farmers, cheesemakers, and mongers are out there, caring for that cheese that will end up in our dinner table in 3-to-24 months.

The city is a big market place, where success stories are made and truly unique cheeses (and people) become the talk of the town. I can’t say that I love that about New York, but what I can say is that if you are willing to put the time to make it here, you have a good chance.

However, not everyone comes to the city in the same terms, not everyone gets to talk about cheese and enjoy it at dinner, some are the silent workers who clean the kitchens, mop the floors, and keep this town running day-in and day-out.

Most of those are immigrants and like me they came here looking for a dream. My dream was to work at United Nations, and continue to work with cheese. I never imagined that I would one day be a cheese judge or better a cheese academic, as my friend Dimitri Saad calls me. I came here to be with my family – my boyfriend – here I found new friends.

Immigrants, especially those from Mexico, come here looking for jobs that do not exist back home. They come here too, with their family and find new support systems. They have dreams of making it big and going back home to show the fruit of their work.

Still, the situation for all those migrants (particularly the undocumented) is getting harder and harder. They are now treated not only as second-class humans; they are also dispensed as targets for cheap political tactics.

There is no easy solution to the immigration problem of the US, and I don’t pretend to have the answer. What I do have is a very clear understanding that the only way this city and probably this country functions is because of all those immigrants that work hard and maintain our cheese-stores stocked, clean, and staffed.

As I leave the city for a while to continue researching to have a more complex understanding of a possible solution. I ask you to keep in mind those migrants, who like me would like to come and go easily and not live in fear of deportation for working in the things they love.

Other people that shouldn’t go unmentioned for making my NYC cheese life so fulfilling are Jen Boylan-Sessa, Michael Anderson, and Amy Thompson. There are many more people beyond this small list of New Yorkers, they are out there in the smaller places and I hope to see them all soon.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cheese Images

Here are two sets of pics with images that didn't make it to the blog. Most pictures are taken with my iPhone.

Since, I am moving to China, a country with no cheese culture, this blog will start to include other foods. Mostly artisanal, but also traditional ways of cooking and eating. I hope to follow in the footsteps of a great blog that my boyfriend used to write. You can see his writings at Cooking Fire. It was in that space that I published my first blog post about being an apprentice at the caves of Murray's Cheese in New York.

Enjoy. Carlos

Adventures in Cheese-buying

The newest addition to the list of cheese stores in New York City is BKLYN Larder.

They have a nice working cave to hold their cheese and a good mixed selection of imported and American cheeses. The staff is nice, their signs are funny and the non-cheese selection really complete. Including some of their own in-house made cured meats and some meats from Dickson's.

I got a big chunk of Tractor Cheddar from VT and a small piece of Pantaleo from Italy. I had never tried the cheddar and I was looking for something easy to put in sandwiches. The Pantaleo was one of the cheeses in the dessert list at Lupa Osteria Romana in the city. I didn't have it there, because I was too full from an amazing fish dinner, so I wanted to try it.

Cheese selection @ BKLYN Larder - (Brooklyn, NY)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Flavoured cheese

Another question that I get is about cheeses that have added flavours. You know the type, jalapeño jack, dill harvarti, or truffle pecorino. I sense the question normally has two hidden agendas, depending on who asks.

On one side are the "amateurs," who want a guilty pleasure validated. On the other are the "experts," who are tasting my cheese knowledge. My answer always, for this and other questions about flavour is - eat what you like and if you have the opportunity look for non-commercial cheeses that only have natural flavours and not chemical compounds to give the extra taste.

Flavoured cheeses are not an invetion of modern cheesemaking. There are great European cheeses with a large tradition that have added flavours. My favourite of these type of cheeses is Brin d'Amour (also known as Fleur du Maquis). This Corsican cheese is covered with herbs and peppers which infuse the paste made with sheep's milk to give it a subtle pastoral flavour.

Many other European cheese have added flavours, amongst the most famous are: Pecorino Rosso, Aromes au Gene de Marc, Sage Derby, Taramundi and Nokkelost. In this category we should also consider the smoked cheeses and those wrapped in leaves like Banon or Valdeon (Blue). Of the smoked cheese the Italian - Ricotta Affumicata and the American smoked Mozzarella are two of the most famous in this family.

Lately, many Canadian and American creameries are debuting flavoured cheeses. Most famous is the amazing Barely Buzzed by Beehive Cheese Co. in Utah. This cheddar type cheese is rubbed with lavander and coffee to create a great dessert cheese. A new one that they also developed is SeaHive, which has honey and salt. I love this creamery not only because they are innovative, but also because they take risks and know their craft enough that they can turn a crazy idea into an awesome cheese.

Other amazing cheeses in this category are, the pungent Hoja Santa made with fresh goat milk's or the Rosemary Cheddar by Rouge Creamery or their Rouge River Blue.

Finally, there are collaborations between creameries and other food companies designing interesting mixes. Two that I tasted lately are made by Harpersfield Farmstead Cheese Co, both were semi-hard cheddar type cheeses. One had Raspberry Herbal Tea and the other was made with Lapsang Souchog Black Tea, both were commissioned by Harney and Sons tea.

Like always the mix is the result of the ingredients, in this case both the tea and cheese were of excellent quality, but their aging needs a little work. However, I recommend you getting some if you see them or if you buy tea. Remember that the only way that cheesemakers can improve their craft is by having people like you and me eating, tasting, and giving feedback. Here is a pic of the cheeses, apologies for the link, my computer is busted and my photo memory is lost in the immensity of the time machine.