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Hey folks,

I will be on a whirlwind Wisconsin (cow milk) cheese tour so don’t expect any posts from me this week. Hopefully I’ll have good pictures and stories when I get back.

I will be back in town in time for the California Artisan Cheese Guild Benefit (held at the San Francisco Cheese School) on Friday night. If you want an evening of cheese eating, cheesemaker schmoozing, and/or something to do before the clubs open, this is well worth the $35. Reserve your spot through the Cheese School (and check out their other classes while your there!).
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Hey folks, as of now I am posting all my cheese content over to my personal website Gordonzola dot net. I am posting cheese stuff there more or less regularly. If you are an LJer, and you really want to keep reading me on LJ, someone has already made a feed: [livejournal.com profile] gordon_edgar.

Sorry for the change of venue. See you there!
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Now Channel 5 thinks our coupons are newsworthy!

Best part is our Rainbow person plugging my book while talking about the cheese department.

Otherwise there are some factual inaccuracies (we started the coupons originally because we were trying to make the weekends less crowded, not because we were having hard times), and it would have been nice to hear the word "cooperative". But you can't get mad at free publicity.
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Long time readers may remember my ex-co-worker/clown stripper entry from a few years back.* Well, Pinky showed up the other day at the store. She was all hunched, tweaky, and sniffly and was trying to quietly pass by the cheese section and into the backstock area. She had a bag, but I couldn’t tell if she had any products in it. I yelled out to her to stop as she shuffle-sneaked past.

“Don’t you remember me? I used to work here.” Pinky said. “I just need to use the bathroom.”

“Oh, I remember you. But you can’t go up there. You don’t work here anymore.”

She had every intention of just blowing past me, but four or five other workers -- who had just finished dinner – were blocking the stairs. Actually, she was blocking them too. Impasse. One of them, who just happens to look really, really tough, said, “This is workers only.”

Pinky saw that she wasn’t going to get past and that she was all of a sudden drawing a lot of attention. She also, between me, the workers on the stairs, and the people doing produce prep, was outnumbered 10 to 1.

“Whatever, Show-off!” she yelled non-sensically as she huffed away.

Luckily on of the produce workers followed her and saw her trying to get into our other backstock area across the store. This made her excuse even less believable since – as an ex-worker -- she knows there is no bathroom on that side of the store. She left then, before we had to officially kick her out.

Sigh. Another day at an urban grocery store…

*It's a very good story for context. I recommend this link.
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We had a big cheese contingent at the Neko Case show last night. Neko was amazing. I actually left liking her music more than I did when I went in, and I liked it plenty upon arrival. It’s poignant, sad, hopeful, nostalgic, and filled with the detail of every day life, sometimes all in the same song.

When we all got to the BART/MUNI stop after the show I was struck by something. Maybe it was a reflective mood inspired by an hour and a half of Neko Case. While we once all lived in walking distance from Rainbow, now I was the only one left in San Francisco. This entry/article/rant has been said many times before, to be sure. But I felt the sadness for a moment. Our communities that once existed and the way they could have grown – and we could have grown old – together.

It didn’t help when the first song that came on this morning as I sat down to the computer was J Church’s “The Satanists Convene” which is a song about everything this city has lost. And of course we’ve lost Lance too. His songs occasionally made me cry when he was alive. While his songs were also part sappy/part serious, some certainly have become more poignant since his death.

Perhaps returning to the Warfield also contributed. I hadn’t been these since (I think) a 1992 Cramps Halloween show. Just to prove how old we are, I attended that show with friends whose youngest daughter was one-ish. These are wonderful people that I’ve been friends with since the ‘80s who fled the Bay Area for more affordable living in rural Pennsylvania, but returned last year. Earlier this week that daughter won a $10,000 scholarship for her singing from Beach Blanket Babylon. You can’t predict these things. And some of these things are good.

I suppose poignancy was the theme of the last 24 hours. I didn’t choose that theme. It just happened.
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Well, it’s 6 AM. I’m getting so used to getting up early every day (while subbing [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso’s receiving shifts for her vacation) that I’m waking up before my 6 AM alarm now. I don’t know what to think about that. Except that I’ve already made tea, washed dishes, and cut a dozen day-old bagels in half and stuck ‘em in the freezing.

Going to see Neko Case tonight with Stagey, Dairryiere and Dairryiere’s boyfriend (who I think had a nickname at one point, but I forgot it). I hope I can stay awake to a real adult bedtime.

Oh well, off to welcome the cheese to our store. Get on little Gouda. Welcome Winsome Washed-rinds. Bienvinidos both basic and bodacious Bries. Join us so-low-priced-that-you are-probably-driving-farmers-out-business-until-enough-cows-get-killed-to-lower-production Jack! Hop off those trucks and settle in to the walk-in!


May. 28th, 2009 09:24 am
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After 15 years of cheese selling (my anniversary was May 18!), it’s not like I think I’ve seen it all, but I feel like I have a general handle on the questions I will get. Last weekend however, one threw me for a loop.

A guy walks up to me and says, “What’s your margin on cheese?”

“Are you asking as a customer or as a food professional?” I respond. Something about his manner is odd, not the least of which is that there’s no lead up to this question at all and he asks as if it were just as normal to ask this as “where’s the brie?” I ask this question mostly because I want to know if he understands the difference between margin and mark-up,* and also because I want to try and figure out where he’s coming from.

“Food professional.”

“I’ll answer your question, but I find it strange – if you are in the food business – that you can’t tell by looking at the prices. There are not a lot of secrets in the food world. We pretty much all know what each other pay for things. Where do you work?”

“I work at a company that sells products online.”

“Ok, so you want me to tell you how we do our pricing but you won’t tell me where you work or why you are asking. I mean, I’m standing here at my workplace so you know where I’m coming from but you won’t give me any information about yourself and you expect me to tell you what are generally considered trade secrets. Doesn’t that strike you as a little odd?”

“I didn’t mean it that way. I work on the computer systems.”

“Ok, for what company?”

“…” Clearly this is a secret for some reason.

“Ok, here’s the deal, our cheese margins are between 35-50% which is low for the industry. What our margin is depends on how much labor goes into a cheese. Does that answer your question?”

“(Looking at a two-year aged gouda) I just find it strange that you can sell cheese for $15/lb. Why don’t people just buy it at Costco?”**

It’s certainly not limited to selling cheese, but this is how people get themselves into trouble. If he had identified himself as a customer I would have been much friendlier, answering the question after I generally explained the issues behind cheese pricing: high labor to sales ratio, higher cost of refrigeration that regular grocery, need to cover shrink, etc. as well as the fact that pricing also reflects that people can ask questions to workers who get paid a living wage (with benefits) and therefore tend to have more knowledge and experience than people at other stores.

By puffing himself up, he unknowingly violated the unwritten rule of the food trade which is that the first thing you do when asking questions to someone else in the food trade is identify yourself. He thereby put himself in the category of people like the sales rep who once called me up pretending to be a customer asking me about Cheese X*** and saying that we really needed to carry it and that he and all his friends would buy it etc. Liars and time-wasters are the most reviled people in the business. That doesn’t seem like an unusual concept.

*Margin is the percent you make after subtracting the wholesale price of a product. It is related to – but different from – the mark up. For example, if we pay $1 for something and our mark up is 50% we charge $1.50. Since .50 is the amount we net, 33% is the margin because .50 is 33% of $1.50.

**It’s not that this is not a valid question. It’s simply that a cheese professional would know the answer to this. This is food retail 101.

**Since they dealt with him quickly and appropriately, I will not ID the company.
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While this is all good news to me, this announcement may sound a little good news/bad news to you folks. But, here it is: I have changed publishers for my book.

The bad news is that it will not be published until early 2010, nearly a full year past the original pub date.

The overwhelmingly good news is that I have reached an agreement with Chelsea Green, a environmentalist press who have put out some of my favorite cheese books (including one that I actually quoted in my manuscript – how incestuous!). I am incredibly excited to be involved with Chelsea Green because I have admired their work for years. Plus, I think they will actually print the book!

I wish my old publisher well. They have put out some books I love and while they are going through some hard times right now, I do think they will eventually rebound. I just couldn’t stay in limbo any longer.

I will link to ordering information and all that when it’s up in a few months, but just wanted to update you all on the state of the Cheesemonger.

Thanks for all your support.

Bye Bye P!

May. 21st, 2009 07:08 am
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I should note here that my co-worker of over ten years has moved back home to Oregon. Kelly the P was an awesome Rainbow worker, a good friend and an important part of the cheese department. I miss her every day.

And – as this picture shows – she shares the love of cheese that one needs to have to be a great cheese worker.

Good luck up there P!
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Usually I just use this space to mock bad cheese industry advertisements. But I actually kind of like this one.


Sure the ye olde ship may be a little misleading. But few people find containerization as aesthetic as I do. And the Keane eyes on the cow are, like Allison on the most recent ANTM, a little disconcerting. Plus she’s waving at the cheese as if they are her babies, emigrating to a better life. In the cheese business no one likes to talk about the real cow babies, especially the males.

And what’s with the one wheel in the water? Is it trying to escape? A non-believer in the American dream trying to escape back to its homeland and community? Or a non-selected Graskaas, maybe even a Vlaskaas that painted itself blue and tried to stowaway and got thrown overboard. Perhaps it’s a Graskaas that overslept and literally missed the boat? No matter what, it doesn’t see to be headed towards a pleasant fate.

Still, it’s miles away from most inter-industry cheese advertising that tends to be ugly, crass, and less subtle about discussing units and profit. The cut and paste is pretty cute and it actually serves a purpose since this is a really a note reminding me that our pre-orders for the first Dutch cheese of the year made from grazed (Spring) milk are on their way.

I can’t shake the feeling however, that our Graskaas might get stolen by pirates.

There's a bigger version here behind the cut )
gordonzola: (aesthetic)
It’s official. I will be judging cheese again at the American Cheese Society competition in Austin, Texas in early August. I’ve always wanted to go to Texas in August… ha. I’m guessing I will spend a lot of time in the air-conditioned hotel.

Regular readers of this journal will remember that I judged cheese at the 2007 ACS competition too. Tasting and grading 50-75 cheeses a day plus all the individual category winners. Whoo-hoo! Cheese judging is probably the only time I ever feel like I have my fill of cheese. It’s also what gave me this great icon.
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I haven’t had time to mention that we stopped at the Beehive Cheese Company when we were in Utah. Beehive is famous for their “Barely Buzzed Cheddar” which is one of the few “cheese with stuff in (or on) it” cheeses that I actually like. The rind is rubbed with espresso and lavender that gives the cheese a deeper flavor than their other cheddars, as well as a little bitter bite. In fact, (and I mentioned this awhile back without mentioning the cheese company name) this is the cheese that one of the owners called me in a panic needing a blurb for because they were about to go on the “Today Show”. My suggestion of "Beehive Cheese Company’s Barely Buzzed Cheddar is a novelty cheese that -- surprisingly -- doesn't suck" was not used for some reason.*

Beehive cheese co

Eventually they forgave me for that because they are some of the nicest folks in the cheese business. Even though I was really just passing through their part of Utah on the way back to SF, I knew that I needed to stop and visit.

The biggest thing that surprised me is how small the operation is. They had told me I’m sure, but both owners are still very much hands-on in the make room, and they don’t even make cheese every day of the week yet. We tasted a bunch of cheeses besides the Barely Buzzed, the other standouts being the Promontory Cheddar and the one with honey and salt crystals. In fact, Tim was nice enough to give us little samples to take on the road with us. While they looked unappetizingly like hotel room soaps,** they went perfect with the free samples of salami that I had brought on the trip and had forgotten to eat.*** All in all a fun visit.

Me and Tim at the Beehive storage cooler.

Thanks to the Beehive folks for the tour and the cheese.

*I actually tasted the cheese before it was for sale. I was sitting at a table at the American Cheese Society Conference and this tall guy says, “Hey, do you wanna try my coffee-rubbed cheese?” I figured – if nothing else – it would be grist for the blog, but it – even then in its unperfected infancy – was really good. A year later I had to try and avoid them at the conference because I was judging the competition and knew the Barely Buzzed had won best of category before it was announced. I knew they would be super excited an I’m not great at keeping secrets so everytime I’d see them I went in the other direction. I’m sure they thought I hated them until the secret could finally be revealed.
**The cheese you’d buy at the store looks great, it’s just the samples I’m mocking.
*** and yes, the food business is all about the free samples.
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Ha. According to Amazon.com my book is “frequently bought together” with “Tonight” by Franz Ferdinand. I guess when you are # 1,340,897 in sales, a couple of people can have a big impact. Previously the related items were all books on sex work.

The official new release date is July 1. No, I will not guarantee that. And no, you will not be able to miss it when I know for sure.
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I just started going through my work email but if anyone who is looking for a job would be interested in working at a local cheese distributor's small warehouse, leave a comment with your email (comments will be screened). This was posted over a week ago but they might still be looking. Must have food and warehouse experience.
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I just got an email from a distributor that says only, "The proposed 300% Roquefort Duty has been postponed to Thursday April 23rd." You heard it here first. I feel sorry for those poor distributors who have stockpiled pallets already. But hey, at this rate we'll still have Roquefort at "only" $25-30/lb though X-mas!

By the way, we will be closed tomorrow for Cesar Chavez Day. You can come down to the store and stick your face up to the glass, but we aren't going to open the doors.
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For those of you who asked, here are the beer and cheese pairings we used:

Beer + cheese = love.
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After doing the beer/cheese thing on Saturday, I actually went back to the Artisan Cheese Festival as a vendor on Sunday. It wasn’t awful, but I kinda doubt I’m going to do it again. It may be fun for the other cheese folks to talk directly to the public at a big event, but I get to do that every week.

I was working for Rainbow, but sampling and selling cheese from other cheese folks who couldn’t be there. I didn’t mind the selling. The fact is it’s an honor to sell Franklin Peluso’s cheese: he’s a 3rd generation California cheesemaker and his Teleme is a Northern California tradition. Similarly, selling cheese for Dee Harley so she can tend to the kids* is doing my part to help keep a small cheesemaker visible when she doesn’t have the staff to spread herself so thin. I also got to cover for Sheana’s new “Delice de la Vallee”, the first local goat /cow blend fresh cheese while she was teaching a cheesemaking class. The Fest was well-attended, for about an hour it was actually pretty hard to move inside the booth-filled tent.

Attendees were confused by our booth because everywhere else cheese folks were there representing themselves and instead I had three different companies at one table. I had to make sure to distance myself from the cheesemakers too. For example, Franklin would be too polite to explain the confusion over the name of his cheese the way I did, especially to all the Italian Americans who grew up with it but haven’t been able to find it for awhile. “Peluso’s Teleme is the original name, but Franklin Peluso sold the company awhile back. The new owners didn’t make cheese of the same quality and that’s why it has been hard to find over the last few years. Most stores – including us – discontinued it. Franklin returned to California and started ‘Franklin’s Teleme’ which is the real thing and the one you want.”

Also, some representative from Costco came up to me and wanted Dee Harley’s information. She seemed nice enough until I told her that since Dee was selling mostly off the farm these days -- and was limiting her farmstead dairy to around 200 goats -- that I really doubted she had enough cheese to sell to Costco. “Oh, “she said, “Do you know that? Are you related to her?” Just trying to help you not waste your time, really. Sorry about that.

The most amusing part is that Sheana Davis’s first name is pronounced “Shawna”. All day long people would come by looking for their “friend Sheena”. I would try to correct these folks through example, “No, Shaw-na is teaching a class right now.” But then they started correcting me! One person actually said, “For your information, I believe it’s pronounced ‘Shee-na”. I swear I’m not making this up

Included in the price of admission was a lot of beer and wine sampling so the last hour and a half was filled with placating drunks. “Oh wait! I had this cheese before. But it was harder, a different color and made with cow milk. Why did you stop making that one?”

Unlike a bartender, I did not receive tips for this.

As an attendee I’m sure it’s a great event. What’s not great about being able to taste and buy pretty much all the California hand-made cheeses plus a few rare ones from Oregon and Washington? Plus all you can drink included with admission (and one’s ability to push through crowds)? It’s definitely something worth going to. I love working with the public, I just like my public a little more sober and focused.

*Kids as in “Bleat, bleat!” not “Mommmmmmmmm!”
**If you want to read more about the actual events – and not my whining and complaining – check out Bryce’s blog Canyon of Cheese.
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I did a class at the Artisan Cheese Festival this weekend. “Strong Cheese and Stout Brews” was the title -- even though not all the cheese was strong and not all the brews were stouts – and it was, obviously, on the pairing of beer and cheese.

I was teamed up with my cheese friends Sheana Davis and Raymond Hook.* It went well but really how could it not when you are giving people high alcohol beer and cheese along with their paid admission. About half way through booze/cheese classes there is always a background buzz as participants start developing their own buzz and “quietly” talk to their neighbors. Classes like this should be lively and no one seemed to mind. Mics might have helped quieter people but that kind of thing is not usually a problem for Sheana, Raymond, or me.

I do always feel extra pressure when I know someone has paid to hear what I have to say instead of just wandering in off the street to grocery shop. I feel satisfied knowing that it would have been really hard not to walk out of that room a little tipsy. Hopefully they also took away the primary message: you don’t need a snooty vocabulary to enjoy cheese pairings and you don’t even need wine.

I like to think I have other messages to convey in my lifetime, but at least this was an enjoyable one.

*Ha ha on this ancient link!

My book

Mar. 19th, 2009 09:51 am
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Hey just a little update on the state of my book since a bunch of folks have asked me: it has been delayed. The new, tentative, release date is July 1. I was waiting to announce the delay until I had a more definite new release date but since the original release date is upon us -- and I know some of you folks pre-ordered it -- it seems only fair to give you the heads-up that it won't be arriving in the mail or your local bookstores this month.

Keep your fingers crossed for July!


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