Friday, September 28, 2007

The next tasting

The Joy of Cheese Presents Cheeses to pair with Autumn wines

Ever notice that all of the wine and cheese pairing strategies come from the wine community? At The Joy of Cheese we’d like to counter that with some wisdom from the cheese side.

Autumn wines tend to be a fruitier and sweeter than their warm weather counterparts, and to a cheesemonger way of looking at the world, that means it’s time to break out the more aggressive cheeses. At our next Joy of Cheese tasting, look for such off the beaten path delights as Shawandase from Long Island (yes, Long Island), Rocotiere from France, Calcagno from Sardinia and a host of other loud and proud cheeses.

The tastings will take place October 16, 18 and 23 at 10 Degrees, the wine and high end spirits bar at 121 St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. The tastings start just after 7 and run until 8:30. Tickets for the tasting are $30 and attendees pay for their wine (or any other spirit that suits them) at the bar separately. To reserve space, e-mail me at

Our tastings usually begin with an introductory cheese, then a flight of three cheeses followed by a round of fruit, and a mystery cheese to keep folks on their toes. This flight/fruit/mystery cheese sequence is repeated twice then at the end, we finish with a round of chocolate (usually 60% dark from Jacques Torres). I’m happy to answer any and all questions about cheese. Although many of the regulars call these classes, instead they are more like informal discussion groups where a delicious series of cheeses are served.

Next tasting: A Man Called Rolf, the cheeses of the great Swiss affineur Rolf Beeler November 6, 8 and 13.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Essential Problem for high end retailers of cheese

You probably have friends who cook and friends who don't, but both go to great restaurants.
When the friends who cook tell you about their meal, they go into some detail, for instance, they may have had the monkfish seasoned with lavender and fennel, drizzled with blood orange juice and roasted in a banana leaf. When your friends that don't cook tell you about their meal, they tell you that they had the fish, it was great.

Here's the issue for cheesemongers. The overwhelming majority of customers don't make cheese and what's more, that overwhelming majority haven't even handled cheese.

Thus our cherished lexicon, pressed, raw, washed, etc. is all Greek to them. And if they're Greek and speak their native tongue, then it's all Swahili or some such. Thus they're all in the boat of the person who doesn't cook yet goes to great restaurants.

So for cheesemongers the issue is selling cheese and bringing them up to speed on cheese. It's hard work. Most customers at a cheese shop would like to just say, I'll have what I had last time and hope that you know what that means.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The next tasting

The Joy of Cheese Presents Cheeses of Spain, Portugal and Colorado, yes, that Colorado

There’s a lot more to cheesemaking in the Iberian Peninsula than Manchego.

The first Joy of Cheese event of autumn will focus on the great cheesemaking traditions of Spain and Portugal and how these techniques have spread to unlikely places.

Our selections will likely include Queso De Mano (an American), Serpa, Monte Nebro, Roncal, Quinta Boa Vista, Pau, Garrotxa, Serena and several rare varieties.

Your wine drinking may be shifting toward sweeter whites and more red in general and these cheeses are an ideal match.

The tastings are scheduled for Tuesdays September 25th and October 2nd as well as Thursday September 27th.

As always the tastings run from just after 7 until around 8:30 at 10 Degrees, the wonderful wine and high end spirits bar at 121 St. Marks Place in the East Village. Admission to the tasting is $30 and you pay for your drinks as you go.

Reservations are a must. Contact me at

The Joy of Cheese blog is up at

Next tastings October 16, 18 and 23: Cheeses for Autumn Wines


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

okay, so how did I get into cheese?

This is probably my most frequently asked question.
It's a long story but this is the easy, short version.

I grew up in a family that loves to cook, and I caught on before I was in the third grade.
I worked in the deli section of a big superstore in Dallas when I was in high school.
In 1984, needing a part time job while I got my writing career underway, I took a gig at Bloomingdales flagship store in Manhattan working in their fresh food area. I figured it would be a lot like my gig in Texas. Wrong. The inventory was WAY more exotic, the clientele WAY more haughty and our training was in obsequiousness rather than product. My young colleagues and I were ambitious and we needed this job to facilitate our other pursuits work, so we taught ourselves about fine cheese and charcuterie and had a blast doing it.
Bloomies liked to broom the staff every two years or so and since I hadn't been hired as a columnist at the Times just yet, I had to move to another shop, Petak's, on 90th and Madison. The clientele were richer but the cheese was in sad shape. I took over the department and built an outpost for American farmstead cheeses. That worked out really well; from 1986-91 we were a must do on any foodie's Manhattan trek. I was even offered a job at Neal's Yard in London but turned it down, the writing career was starting to take off.
After that I spent several years gradually downsizing my involvement in the business while becoming a full time freelance writer.
Post dotcom crash, 9/11 and music industry meltdown, I hung on to my cherished dream of a career until in early 2003 when bereft of savings, down 65K on my credit cards, four months behind on my rent, and with not even a $25 record review assignment in my inbox, I decided it was time to return to the food biz. I lucked into a 3/4 time job Garden of Eden 14th and 5th Ave. They had an excellent cheese department and even better they were in close proximity to several of the city's best wine shops. Better still, neither of my coworkers drank, so I by default became the resident wine and cheese pairing expert. Since I loved cheese and liked the selection, it made me a popular fellow. Shortly after I began working there the writing career regained it's old pace.
Still I was the third man of three in a department that probably should have had five employees. After ten months I was beyond exhausted. That's when a friend suggested I start this business of holding cheese tastings. I left Garden of Eden and took a generally less exhausting position at Bedford Cheese Shop and got this going.
And here we are!


for those just tuning in...

The Joy of Cheese is a tasting service. I will come to your home (or for alumni associations and the like, come to a venue of your choosing) and hold a cheese tasting. Unlike some well known retailers, when I hold a tasting I don't hold back. We investigate anywhere from 12-14 cheeses (sometimes more) plus dark chocolate, and fruit. And to make sure you don't just bliss out, there are two mystery cheeses and the answers to the riddle lie in the flavor of previously tasted cheeses. Prices start at $300 for groups of 10-12 or so.
I also do the same sort of events on a monthly basis at the wine and high end spirits bar, 10 Degrees, 121 St. Mark's Place, in the East Village. The events start just after 7 and run until about 8:30. The cost for the cheese tasting is $30 and you pay for your drinks as you go (but at 7 you get to take advantage of happy hour discounts).
The upcoming schedule for the tastings goes a little like this.
September 25, 27 and October2: Cheeses of Spain Portugal and Colorado (yes, that Colorado)
October 16, 18 and 25: Cheeses to pair with autumn wines
November dates tba: A Man Called Rolf, the best Swiss cheeses on the planet.