May 10, 2012

An Education in Cheese.

    "How did you learn so much about cheese?"  I get asked this question quite regularly by customers (and occasionally by friends who have somehow managed to escape my long winded hyperbole).  Inevitably I forget  myself and start getting dewy eyed over a piece of Quadrello di Bufala in front of a patient customer.  I'll start talking about the farm in Lombardy it came from and the delicate pudgy paste underneath the mottled crusty rind...and they'll look at me in wonder like I'm perhaps a bit cracked.  Yet that a fore mentioned question keeps popping up. Natch.

    Hence I think it's time that I address it a bit more fully.  It's a rather long saga spanning the last 5 1/2 years (i promise to be concise-ish).  Even including what I call my "Gap Year" where I worked for a thriving dance studio as the Office Girl.  During that time I was still involved with cheese.  Really it was that year where I truly came to understand my deep love/obsession for The Curd.  Separation makes the heart grow fonder...or something like that (it's not like i'm going to stand underneath a balcony pining for a chunk of farmhouse Cheddar...or anything). Hopefully you will be able to use some of what I did to learn about cheese to kick-start your own education. 

    My education in cheese truly began on the job with the first Cheesemonger I really trained under.  I was very fortunate to have such a great teacher for my blossoming interest in cheese.  She, too, was obsessed with the stuff and knew gobs of esoteric trivia about every piece of cheese in our cases.  Listening to her and others who knew quite a bit about cheese was my first step in learning.  For about the first 6 months I would just parrot back what I had picked up.  That is until I was able to eat, read about, and form my own opinions.

Murray's Cheese Handbook & 3 mo. raw milk Manchego
    Which leads me to my next points.  Reading.  Murray's Cheese Handbook and The Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins are two of the best resources on the subject.  I absolutely am that nerd who reads about cheese in her free time.  It has really helped expand what I know about my profession.  From the proper care and keeping of every conceivable style of cheese to what molds are in those smelly washed rinds.  Through reading I get to know the opinions of  other, more accomplished (i.e. published authors), Cheesemongers out there.  Reading their opinions helps me gain perspective.  It can educate me on aspects of individual cheeses that I hadn't even contemplated yet.

    However, my favorite part of learning about cheese has, hands down, been consuming huge quantities of the stuff.  So you want to learn about cheese?  Eat.  Eat lots.  Eat as many different kinds as you can get your hands on.  Then write about what you ate and everything you experienced in eating it.  What did you taste?  How did it feel on your tongue? Against the roof of your mouth? What did you smell?  What was the texture in hand?  What did it look like when you cut into it?  On and on.  You get the idea.  It doesn't have to be fancy writing or in "foodie speak."  This last lesson has been more important to me than either teachers or reading.  It allows for the free flowing of my own personal biases for or against any particular cheese.  And there's nothing* I love more than giving my unfiltered opinions about The Curd.

*okay okay so I love prairie dogs and my Hubs-to-be more...but just barely...