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.

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