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!

-MJ

2 comments:

Keith said...

Since you have a close relationship with them, What's the story at Bedford Cheese?

I have found at couple of things there, notably a Wildspitz Bio, and a very funky and exotic Swiss goat cheese (the name of which escapes me at the moment) labeled as being Rolf Beeler selections, when, unless I am gravely mistaken, they clearly were not.

They were not listed on Beeler's website and generally Beeler puts his name all over any labels on the rind. This is very upsetting and makes the doubt the integrity of the place. I also found the funky Swiss Goat on the cheesemaker's website and there was no mention of Rolf Beeler.

Am I mistaken?

Martin said...

I don't know what the funky goat cheese is since I know of lots of funky goats, but Wildspitz Bio is indeed not a Beeler production, it's from Caroline Hosstetler, another Swiss affineur. Her cheeses are handled by the same importers who handle Beeler and I suspect that the shop manager didn't feel like making the distinction at the time. Given that cheesemaking is such a heavily female occupation yet all the rock stars are guys, many of my colleagues were disappointed that Hosstetler doesn't get her due from us for Fricalin, Wildspitz and others.

-MJ