Cheese eating isn't always pretty.
This is a photo of me at a cheese stall in Borough Market, London taken by the lovely and super-brainy sparkle_shortz while we both happened to be in the UK a few weeks ago. I'm stuffing my face with cheese. I know most of you have never seen that before.
Meeting cheese people without an introduction is always tricky. There is a balancing act that I am not entirely comfortable with; I don't think any of us cheese folks are. I want to communicate that I know something about cheese, without coming across as saying, "I know more than you". I want to let them know we can speak in professional shorthand without sounding like I'm saying, "pay attention to me, I'm special." I don't want to come off as condescending but I don't want to be talked down to either. We need a we're-all-in-this-together cheesemonger hand signal. Maybe a simulated cheese wire pull?
In the Bay Area, I can simply say where I work. We have enough of a reputation that I don't have to explain what I know. Outside the Bay though, if I haven't met folks at a cheese conference, the retailers and cheese makers who I don't deal directly with. would have no way of gauging whether I am a fellow professional.
The woman in that picture was very nice. She let me sample all sorts of things and we quickly developed a mutual respect despite my insistence on tasting the young "raw milk' cheese. It bugs me when people come into our store and limit themselves in that kind of way. We might have a pasteurized cheese that's better than what we can get unpasteurized. It generally reflects ignorance. Not evil ignorance, but a half-understood concept that raw milk = more traditional = better. For example, (since I keep mentioning Stilton in this blog) a Stilton, which is (right now) always pasteurized, will beat the heck out of almost any firm, domestic raw milk blue in a taste test. But some people don't even want to consider it. That's cheese craziness.
The cheese seller above even said to me something I say to customers all the time., "You know, just because it's raw milk doesn't mean it's better." Ooooh, hearing that burned. Even if it did make me respect and like her.
I had my reasons though. I wanted to taste the young raw milk cheese simply because we sell almost all the pasteurized versions here! U.S. law is that you cannot import and sell cheese that is aged less than 60 days and made with unpasteurized milk. Fresh cheeses and soft-ripened ones are (mostly) inedible at that point. Oh, the raw milk , illegal in the US, Coulommiers she had was so good that it made me consider dropping ours because it is such a bland crime against the name.
It smelled so strong that I had to wash my bag and my sweatshirt inside the bag as soon as I got home. (Oh and BJ, sorry for leaving the remainder in your fridge.)
If you're at Borough Market in London, and have enough English cheese from the Neal's Yard right outside, you should stop by her stall. Everything was aged to perfection. Despite the potential pitfalls, I got along well with the cheese stall seller in the picture above. The cheese world has a lot of weird competition though.
I still remember the day in San Francisco that I went into my corner store and the owner told me he was selling his store to someone opening a cheese shop. He introduced us, because he knew I was a cheese buyer. Evidently, I didn't measure up to what a cheesemonger should look like because the new owner immediately started dropping names and discussing how he, who'd never actually really worked with cheese, was going to build an aging cave and sell only perfect cheese. And yes, he pronounced it caaaaav.
"Good luck with that," I said.
He didn't respond. He wasn't listening. He didn't have good luck with that.