It's a stinky business, but that's not stopping these six guys from reinvigorating a time-honored food trade for a newly-enthusiastic audience. Vegans, look away.
“It’s better than bringing pot,” swears Adam Moskowitz. “When you bring a great piece of cheese to a party, you’re the coolest person in the room.” And while that probably depends on what kind of party we’re talking about, Moskowitz, a New York City cheesescene maven, speaks to a trend that’s very real: Curd stylings have gone the way of beer, bacon, and doughnuts, joining the ranks of these grocery staples-turned-foodie faves. Conjuring such culinary It factor is not easy, but right now cheese has plenty in its favor.
Specialization is trending, and cheese has serious connoisseur potential, with a niche knowledge base that can be put to artisanal use. Cheese is also steeped in heritage, and who doesn’t love the old-school? Plus, it has a real mass appeal (that is, if the Internet’s “What cheese are you?” quizzes are any indicator). “It’s the most exciting time in cheese,” adds Moskowitz. “There’s an enthusiasm behind it unlike there has ever been.” And this gusto is especially apparent among the young, creative, urban set searching for an authentic calling and finding the age-old tradition of cheesemongering.
“One thing that’s really unique about the cheese business in America is the tremendous push by twenty- and thirtysomethings to get involved,” explains Moskowitz. “If you go to an international marketplace, the monger is going to be a 50-year-old man.” Here, we meet some of the young fromage-minded dudes who make it clear why cheese is the next big thing. But maybe, all other explanations aside, the answer is simple: This pungent milk by-product is just wonderfully weird. And we want the funk.
Photo by Cully Wright
GARRETT DURANT - CHEESEMONGER, CHEESE BAR, PORTLAND, OREGON Favorite cheese-centric dish: Fondue! Anything that gets your friends around the same melty pot of cheese is all right by me. Favorite cheese fun fact: Cheese contains more protein and less cholesterol per ounce than eggs. Weirdest cheese you’ve ever encountered: Mimolette was never one of my favorites, and when I learned that “cheese mites” were responsible for its distinctive rind and flavor, it became even less so. Stinkiest cheese you’ve ever encountered: Tilsit. This is the only cheese I would recommend handling with gloves on, lest your hands smell like it for the rest of the day. I swear, it could awaken the unconscious. Favorite cheese read: Mastering Cheese by Max McCalman and David Gibbons. Spirit cheese: There is a French cheese called Saulnois that’s washed in plum brandy by nuns. I think if I were a cheese, this is how I’d like to be treated. Favorite cheese + beer pairing: The other day I had the CoCoNut Porter from Maui Brewing Co. with a piece of Colston Bassett Stilton from Neal’s Yard—so many rich, dark flavors. Favorite cheese + wine pairing: The Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Vecchia Modena with some Casatica di Bufala, an Italian buffalo milk cheese—the way something bubbly interacts with a gooey, sweet, decadent cheese is a fun flavor experience. Dream cheese scenario: A nice piece of Ossau Iraty, in Basque country, with a bottle of Txakolina Rosé and some close friends. Best cheese to eat on its own: Rosso di Langa. We called this “dream cheese” at a shop I once worked at, because on separate occasions people who shared this little washed-rind delight had the same dream the following night.
TOMMY AMORIM - CHEESEMONGER, DI BRUNO BROS., PHILADELPHIA Favorite cheese-centric dish: Homemade mac and cheese. My recipe calls for two parts Comté Melodie (Essex St. Cheese Co.) and Reading Raclette (Spring Brook Farms) to one part Bayley Hazen Blue (Jasper Hill Creamery). Favorite cheese fun fact: Valencay goat cheese was shaped by Napoleon. Upon returning home after failing to conquer Egypt, he stopped at the castle in Valencay, France, only to see the once-pyramid-shaped cheese. As if it was mocking him, he drew his saber and lopped off the top. The cheese has looked like this ever since. Weirdest cheese you’ve ever encountered: Timberdoodle (Woodcock Farm, Weston, VT) is a havarti style and definitely the most confusingly scrumptious cheese I’ve ever eaten. Not only is it a washed-rind cheese covered with candidum mold, but its milk type also changes with the season. Funniest way you’ve ever described a cheese’s flavor: I’ve definitely called a certain aged sheep’s milk cheese “slightly ewe-ish” before. Cheesiest pickup line: Hey, are you a chèvre? ’Cause you’re looking fresh! Spirit cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano—nutty and inviting, a lot to handle at first, but utterly addicting. Cheese epiphany moment: When I realized that my refrigerator was brimming with cheese and my fixed-gear bike was covered in cheese stickers. Dream cheese scenario: On a wall, next to a café, in the picturesque Loire Valley in France, surrounded by mountains—just me, a raw milk Crottin, and a thermos full of homemade tea. Best threesome ever. Best cheese to eat on its own: Symphony Comté 27 month (Essex St. Cheese, Fort Saint Antoine, Jura, France), with its flavors of fruit and fresh cream that give way to a bouquet of browned butter and macadamia. It represents less than 1 percent of all Comté that gets exported out of France.
Photo by Nathaniel Wood
REED HERRICK - CHEF/PARTNER/CHEESEMONGER, DTLA CHEESE, LOS ANGELES Most important thing to consider when buying cheese: Asking your cheesemonger what his favorite cheese is or what’s most popular isn’t the way to find out what you like. Let the monger guide you—a good monger can dial you in with a few specific questions. Favorite cheese + beer pairing: Golden Road Might as Well IPL and Humbug Mountain from Rivers Edge Chevre. The gooeyness of the Humbug Mountain really complements the IPL. Favorite cheese + wine pairing: I’m a big fan of Basque cheese, sheep’s milk in particular, and I find it works with the more quirky wines from northern California. Dream cheese scenario: Tailgating at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, freezing my ass off with thousands of Packer fans, about 50 Grain Belt Premium beers, and a hunk of Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Best cheese to eat on its own: Anything Alpine—it’s a great time of year for these cheeses and the diverse flavors are awesome: grassy, nutty, fruity.... Favorite cheese-centric dish: I’m partial to really cheesy twice-baked potatoes. Favorite cheese fun fact: Cheese is alive. Stinkiest cheese you’ve ever encountered: I’ve gotten down with some pretty funky Epoisses, which exude a level of sockyness. Funniest way you’ve ever described a cheese’s flavor: I tend to use the term “asphalty.” I don’t think it’s negative—who hasn’t smelled fresh asphalt or hot asphalt, and thought, ‘Eww, gross,’ but then gone back for a second or third whiff. Most romantic cheese: Harbison from Jasper Cellars: creamy, supple, elegant, and a little dirty. Favorite cheese read: Culture magazine. Spirit cheese: Gas station nacho cheese.
Photo by Ryan Lowry
BRYAN BLAND - HEAD CHEESEMONGER, PASTORAL ARTISAN CHEESE, BREAD WINE, CHICAGO Favorite cheese fun fact: The crystals in aged cheeses are amino acids called tyrosine, which is a precursor to dopamine. Best cheese to eat on its own: Aged Gouda. It’s firm, so no need for bread or crackers. And it’s big in flavor, ranging from caramel and butterscotch to whiskey and bourbon notes. It also travels well—it’s like emergency reserve cheese. Favorite cheese + beer pairing: English farmhouse cheddar and West Coast pale ale. The tropical fruit flavor of some hop varieties combined with a solid malt backbone complements the savory, sometimes dusty flavor of most clothbound cheddars. Wackiest cheese pairing you’ve ever witnessed: Fresh goat cheese rolled in Pop Rocks and lavender. Biggest cheese myth: All blue cheese tastes the same. Never buy pre-packaged, pre-crumbled blue—that stuff has ruined the reputation of blue cheese. Weirdest cheese you’ve ever encountered: Marieke Smoked Cumin Gouda from Holland Family Farm in Wisconsin. It tastes exactly like a bean-and-cheese burrito from Taco Bell, in the best possible way. Stinkiest cheese you’ve ever encountered: Hooligan from Cato Corner Farm in Colchester, Connecticut (named appropriately, because it’s a bully to the senses). It smells like a damp barn full of animals. Cheesiest pickup line: Brie my Valentine? Favorite cheese read: Charlotte Kamin’s articles for Munchies on Vice. Craziest cheese-centric destination you’ve ever visited: Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Spirit cheese: Young Gouda—approachable and friendly, but also complex, adaptable to many situations, but also good alone.
Photo by Joe Friend
ROGER BIELZ - CHEESEMONGER, THE TRUFFLE CHEESE SHOP, DENVER Most important thing to consider when buying cheese: Which cheeses are at their peak. Ask your monger what he thinks tastes best at the moment. Favorite cheese + beer pairing: Red Witch Alpine Swiss and Stockyard Oatmeal Stout. Red Witch was created specifically to pair with the wines, beers, and spirits that accompany the long nights of Carnival, and it stands up incredibly well to the stout. The Stockyard Oatmeal Stout is creamy and lends notes of chocolate and coffee, which really bring out the full milk flavor of the cheese. Favorite cheese + wine pairing: Roquefort and Cabardes. While it seems strange to pair a blue with a red, the flavors of this tiny AOC wine perfectly complement the Roquefort. The wine smells and tastes of rosemary, and I can’t help but think that the sheep producing the milk for Roquefort are grazing on that same rosemary since it’s so abundant in that region. As the adage goes, “What grows together, goes together.” Dream cheese scenario: Hanging out with master affineur Rodolphe Le Meunier in Paris. He’s a bit of a celebrity to us cheesemongers. Ideally, we would take too many shots of vodka (chased with cornichons) and proceed to turn the city upside down. Best cheese to eat on its own: Gruyere. It’s so often used in fondues, or thought of as a cheese meant for melting, and while it’s delicious this way, it has these subtle nuances of milky, creamy, nutty excellence that are so easily lost to the palate if not eaten alone. Favorite cheese fun fact: There is an Italian sheep’s milk cheese called Pecorino Piacentinu allo Zafferano that’s infused with black peppercorns and saffron. Allegedly, this cheese has been made since the 11th century and was specifically infused with saffron to cure the depression of the Norman Count of Sicily’s wife. Fanciest cheese you’ve ever seen: Cuise al Malto d’Orzo e Whiskey, a mixed milk cheese out of Italy’s Piedmont region that is washed in whiskey and then crusted with whiskey-soaked barley. It can be a bit pricey, but the flavor is unlike that of any other cheese. Favorite cheese read: World Cheese Book. It’s a Dorling Kindersley (DK) illustrated reference book.
Photo by Kristina Wilson
ADAM MOSKOWITZ - OWNER, COLUMBIA CHEESE AND LARKIN COLD STORAGE; CREATOR, THE CHEESEMONGER INVITATIONAL, NEW YORK CITY Favorite cheese + wine pairing: Point Reyes Bay Blue and a Sauvignon Blanc because it’s a perfect example of a terroir pairing and is literally a cornucopia of fruit in your mouth. Wackiest cheese pairing you’ve ever witnessed: A grapestuffed sphere of Redwood Hill Farm Fresh Chèvre rolled in Burstin’ Berry Poppin’ Pebbles cereal and finely chopped candied ginger. Perry Soulos of Arrowine calls it The Perpetual Goatstopper. Best cheese to eat on its own: A classic bündnerkäse like Nufenen, because it’s meant to be eaten at every meal. (This cheese is made in a place where you are isolated from the rest of the world in the winter, making cheese a major part of their sustenance.) Biggest cheese myth you’d like to debunk: That cheese made from pasteurized milk is safer to eat than cheese made from raw milk. It is a statistical fact that faulty pasteurization kills more people than raw milk. Favorite cheese-centric dish: Moitié-Moitié Fondue, but with non-traditional accoutrements like roasted brussels sprouts and caramelized peaches. Favorite cheese fun fact: Lactose-intolerant people can eat cheese. Stinkiest cheese you’ve ever encountered: Melted Scharfe Maxx, because it smells like the winning locker room after the state championship. Most high-end cheese you’ve ever encountered: 1655 Gruyere. The affineur says it’s a masterpiece. I think it tastes the way Marilyn Monroe yodeling quietly in your ear would sound. Funniest way you’ve ever described a cheese’s flavor: It tastes like cheese. Favorite cheese read: Cheese and Culture by Paul Kindstedt. Craziest cheese-centric destination you’ve ever visited: I hiked up a Swiss Alp to visit an Alpage cheesemaker. In the cheese business, it is like seeing a unicorn. Fondest cheese memory: The first-ever Cheesemonger Invitational. (Think: Burning Man as a grilled cheese.) Spirit cheese: Walter Rass’s Challerhocker, because it’s a newschool riff on an old-school classic.
Text by Lisa Mischianti.