Many of you know that while I am a general culinary enthusiast, I am also a cheesemonger. Here at Cognitive Leeks, I try to share my love of food and cooking, try to encourage and enable my readers to go boldly into the kitchen and feed their bellies and their souls. At work, I do the same with cheese (mostly).
Many years ago, I was traveling in The Netherlands and Belgium and wanted to try a cheese that I had read about, Epoisses, which is so funky and raunchy that it is banned from public transportation in some European cities. I was a sort of timid traveller then, a little nervous about the Euro to dollar rates so when I found a really lovely cheese shop in Rotterdam, I went in, browsing quietly, a little afraid to ask questions. The shopkeeper greeted me and after seeing me eyeing the case with a Epoisses several times, asked if I would like one. I stumblingly asked if they were expensive or something similarly awkward. She answered “NOTHING is too expensive to have a taste!” and went and found a runny piece of Epoisses from behind the counter and sold it to me for a couple of Euros. I’ve kept that experience in the back of my mind at work; I try to make cheese discovery a welcoming experience at work. I try to answer questions, give tastes, listen to feedback, overcome any intimidation people may be feeling. But sometimes I get a question I can’t answer so I’ve found a few wiser cheese people who I can look too for help, many on cheese blogs or on Twitter.
One of these experts is Tenaya Darlington (better known as Madame Fromage) a writing instructor at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia whose mighty cheese obsession fuels her cheese blog. After moving to Philadelphia from Wisconsin, she developed a relationship with Di Bruno Bros, one of the titans of cheese on the east coast, (you may remember the picture I took of their store in my post about a weekend in Philadelphia.) They have collaborated on a new book called Di Bruno Bros House of Cheese: A Guide to Wedges, Recipes, and Pairings and to introduce the book, Tenaya and Emilio Mignucci, one of the owners of Di Bruno Bros. hosted a class Sunday night at The Venue at The Little Owl in NYC. I was excited to be invited, not only to experience the cheese and pairings that were presented, but also to meet other passionate cheese people.
As I sat at one end of the table, I noticed a few faces that looked familiar and discovered that there were three Twitter cheese peeps in attendance whom I’ve interacted with for a while but never met, Matt Speigler writes Cheese Notes and has been very helpful in my exploration of the cheese culture here in metro NYC and Colleen from Cheese and Champagne and cheese tweeter from Washington DC.
This was our menu:
I appreciated that the menu (and the book) provide a way to associate styles and flavors of cheese in a memorable and relatable way. I talk to people who, when tasting a cheese, sort of squint thoughtfully and try to think of a word besides “delicious” for what they are tasting. It seems to help when I suggest adjectives like ” green oniony” or “butterscotch” to help place the flavor in context.The book and the class expand on that premise with categories like “Quiet Type” and “Mountain Man” and then goes into background on the cheeses to help pinpoint why the unique flavors in each cheese are there.
Each cheese was served with an accompaniment and a wine pairing and a bit of explanation, guidance, and back story on each plate by Tenaya and Emilio.
The Camemebert du Normandie was the classic pairing of bloomy rind cheese, dried fruit and nuts. Subtle and approachable, nutty and sweet.
The “Stinker” Adrahan on the menu was replaced by this Sardinian Pecorino called Moliterno, paired with apple pepper jelly and a dirty martini. The sharp pepperiness of the cheese echoed in the hot pepper jelly and the saltiness with the briny olive in the martini.
This final plate was a crysatalized caramely aged Dutch gouda called L’Amuse with candied pecans and a buttery voluptuous Blue de Bufala with chocolate covered figs.
We each took home a copy of the new book. Im looking forward to reading it, seeing what Tenaya and Di Bruno Bros. have put together. I also left happy to have learned something new from people who know a lot more than I do and feeling excited to have met more people who are really into good food, into the experience of sharing flavors with their friends, readers, and customers. Like the experience I had with the shopkeeper in Rotterdam, I’ve learned that there is a desire among “food people” to open the door and make everyone welcome in the world we inhabit, to share our enthusiasm. I left the class feeling energized and excited to keep providing that open, welcoming door for those who might be feeling timid.