Tag Archives: food holidays

Up for air

Another well-known cheesemonger mentioned this on his facebook the other day, but the thing that most of us – at least the cheese people who actually still work the floor – have in common is that the last two months of the year are a blur. At the beginning of January we come up for air, look around, and wonder, “I wonder what my friends have been doing for the last two months?”

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining here. I kind of love it. I like the craziness of the holiday cheese rush, I like watching cheeses that are hard sells 48 weeks of the year fly of the shelves. I like being busy. Plus it is consistent to my life-long work experience. My longest job before Rainbow Grocery Cooperative was at a photo lab. Back in those pre-digital days, the photo X-mas card business was booming and I regularly worked 50-60 hour weeks between Thanksgiving and X-mas. Long hours, but good money and the sense of accomplishment you get from doing more work than you thought possible when you started.

For instance, selling all this (and more) Reading Raclette:
reading raclette

There are many orders a cheesemonger gets in around Nov/Dec and says, “What was I thinking? How can I possibly sell all this stuff?” I will fully admit — for the benefit of the other cheese folks reading this — that I have moments of severe self-doubt, usually alone in the walk-in cooler while trying to make room for all the cheese. Is this the year I was over-confidant? Is this the year that I thought I was smarter than the historic movement reports? Will I succumb to cheese hubris?

Because all of us who have been in the same place for awhile have records of what we purchased and what customers bought the previous year. It may take a little of the romance off to look at one’s notes before making holiday pre-orders, but it sure makes it more successful. And the romance is there anyways. For every customer that comes in to buy only their same cheeses every year out of tradition, there are ten more who want new and exciting cheese, however subjectively that is defined.

So the feeling of accomplishment in mid/late December as the walk-in starts to empty out is phenomenal. Every square foot of air is a victory. Every hole on the backstock shelf is a justification of one’s purchases. At least until the retail shelves start emptying out and you have to worry about whether you ordered enough.

The life of a perishables buyer is always intense.


But yeah, If you wonder why I’m not making posts on my website, not teaching cheese classes, not sending out holiday cards and not even self-promoting very well (Cheesemonger is the perfect gift for Valentine’s day!) it’s because the cheese is demanding my full attention. Hello January. How is everyone?

On a side note, since I decided to start my book with the details of my recurring holiday dream,* I now get a lot of people asking “Have you had your dream yet?” It’s ironic that I – as someone who hates to talk about dreams almost as much as I hate hearing about other people’s dreams – have created a situation where I basically begged people to ask me about them, but there you go… I just tell ‘em I am sleeping more soundly since I got my CPAP machine.

* Every year during the holidays I have the same nightmare. I’m in the store’s walk-in cooler, but instead of the cheese area being 12’ x 16’, it’s warehouse-sized. Boxes of Fromage De Meaux, Vella Dry Jack, Valencay, Vacherin Mont D’or, Reblochon, and every other cheese I could ever want — legal or illegal — are stacked to the ceiling on shelves, on milk crates, and in every nook, cranny, and corner.

They’re rotting before my eyes.

Mites are turning the Gruyere into nasty tan dust. Orange, stinky, washed rinds are liquefying and dripping onto the cheese below. White bloomy rinds are yellowing, browning, and spotting. All the beautiful cheese is going concave: hardening or disintegrating, and I am helpless. When I look more closely, I see that the few remaining beautiful and snowy white cheeses don’t have rinds at all; instead, they are covered with seas of maggots.

** Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter

Schnitzel visits Cypress Grove

Between having a bad cold that I just could not kick and he craziness of the cheese season (wonderful local writer Bucky Sinister coined it “Cheeseon” when I was talking about it on facebook the other day) I have been ignoring you here. Sorry.

schnitzel at cypress grove

I will make up for it by posting this picture of a desk at Cypress Grove Chevre. That is a picture my dog eating a copy of my book. I sent these out as thank you postcards to folks who donated cheese and held readings for me. I had almost forgotten about it when Bob sent me this. His desk is much cleaner than mine.

Anyways, back to the cheese mines…

Holiday cheese plates

Not to make anyone jealous, but this was our x-mas cheese plate.

From the top left going clockwise: Bufala Casatica (Buffalo Brie come around the outside! Around the outside!*), Cowgirl Mt Tam, Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen Blue, Coach Farm Triple Cream Goat, Lazy Lady Sweet Emotion**, A Swiss Alpage*** cheese so rare and expensive that I immediately forgot its name, Marieke Gouda with Foenegreek.

And since we’re showing home movies, here are my lasagnas:
(These are filled with Bellwether Jersey Ricotta, by the way. Good ricotta is the secret to good lasagna.)

And here is the Dutch Oven that Santa brought us (so colorful that it makes our oven look really bad. No criticism accepted unless you too live in an apartment where turning on the oven is your main source of heat)

I’d show you the pot roast that Stagey cooked but I took the photos too close and they look more like turds than tasty meat.

Oh wait, here’s what was left of a 7 lb roast (spoon for scale):

What cheese did you serve for the holidays?

**This article has the awesomest cheesemaker quote ever. Take heed wanna-be back-to-the-landers: ““No friends, no social life. My only other communication is with other cheese makers. And the farmers’ market.”
***Alpage means it’s from the highest elevation the Alpine cows are grazing at, considered the best, richest, tastiest milk of the year.

My Thanksgiving cheese plate

I know this is a little late. I had some technical problems with my camera but it’s all worked out now. And I know you all love pretty pictures. Besides this is a nice diversion from dealing with the non-writing parts of putting out a book.

I usually post the cheeses I bring to my family Thanksgiving every year but I don’t want people thinking this is somehow my endorsement for top five cheeses in the world or anything. This is the cheese my family would want to eat before a Thanksgiving meal. (Though every year the cheese plate gets bigger and the meal gets smaller)

Here we go in no particular order:

Di Stefano Burrata
A little heart attack in a cup. SoCal-made fresh mozzarella filled with cream (Panna) imported from Italy.

di stefano burrata

Another favorite for my Dad who loves the stinky German cheese. I often alternate family gatherings between bringing this and Schloss by Rouge et Noir.

dutch cheese
The Dutch cheese that thinks it’s Californian!* Awesome sheep-milk Gouda imported by Humboldt Fog-makers, Cypress Grove Chevre.

Robiola Nostrano
robiola nostrano
The first batch we got was mixed milk, this one was all cow, all the time. All good.

Dunbarton Blue:
Sorry, no picture. My family devoured this and we won’t have any in the store until tomorrow. Amazing Wisconsin cheddar with blue veining. This was my family’s favorite cheese this year.

I know this cheese is so last month at this point, but there’s not a better Alpine cheese around right now.

On a side note, I wanted to bring a Vacherin Mont D’or but my buying was too tight. We ran out the night before Thanksgiving at 5 PM and I had forgotten to tuck one aside for me. Oh well, there’s always the next holiday.

*That’s a little Parrano joke there.

The blur of Thanksgiving week

Oh Thanksgiving, the annual American food holiday… whatever one’s political take on it it’s the traditional biggest single-day food event of the year for your beloved grocery workers.

I worked 9 straight days before the holiday (partly because I had taken the weekend before that off to drive to SoCal) so if I owe you a phone call or email, feel free to remind me. It was kind of a daze. Here are some highlights:

1. The failure of the American educational system: I understand people being a little shaky when they are entertaining their pregnant friends for a food holiday. However the lack of basic science among these people is truly frightening. Witness this exchange:

Thanksgiving Host: “I need a Gruyere for a recipe but I need one that’s pasteurized. I have a pregnant friend coming over.”
Me: “All real Gruyere is made from raw milk.* What are you making?”
(TH describes a casserole that will cook in the oven for over 45 minutes)
Me: “Well, you don’t really need to worry about it then. First, the curds for Gruyere are cooked for a long time before the cheese is made, but even with a truly raw, aged cheese, if you bake it ‘til the cheese bubbles for awhile, there’s no worry about safety. Any potential food borne pathogens would be killed by that.
TH: Look, I don’t want to argue. Just show me a pasteurized Gruyere.

(For the tenth straight year I brought my camera to work to document the craziness and then was too busy to take any pictures. Still, I wanted something to break up the text. This is what we had on sale in November)
cheese sales november 2009

2. Reps who are bored because their work is done: I understand that the week before Thanksgiving is a down time for other people. But please don’t come in to the store without an appointment the week before a holiday and try to sell me new products. It’s annoying!

2a. Immediate demands for action on things that are someone else’s fault I have one small company that just refuses to act in smart, professional ways. Generally I find it endearing, but the fact that they refuse to send invoices with their orders is annoying. Luckily I’m honest, because they don’t seem to keep business records. Sending an email that basically says, “Here are all the invoices for the last 3 months, please see which ones you’ve paid, and pay the ones you haven’t” will not be well-received any week, but especially this week. The fact that your “neighbor” sometimes gets your mail and cashes your checks is not an excuse.**

3. Misleading media on cheese The fact that many people think Humboldt Fog is a blue cheese*** is a constant cheese worker correction. No big deal. But, somewhere this year, someone must have referred to it that way somewhere in the media. In the same way that all of a sudden 20 people ask for mascarpone in the same day because it was in a Food Section recipe, people came in asking for Humboldt Fog Blue. I thought it was just me, but Sweet Cheezus and Ilipodscrill confirmed that they had the same experience too. The best was the person who asked, ‘Humboldt Fog is the same thing as Pt. Reyes Blue, right?” If only they’d added “and it’s made by Cowgirl Creamery, right?” they would have hit the most common local cheese mistakes in just one sentence.

Because I was cranky and a Californian, I replied, “You know Humboldt County is about 200 miles from Pt. Reyes, right?” If you are reading this, Bay Area Transplant, sorry for my tone!

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I can remember right now. Who had time to write things down last week? Not cheese workers, that’s for sure.

*Honestly, this is why I like to carry the Rothkase “Gruyere”. First off, it’s a pretty awesome cheese. Secondly, even though I am not really down with it calling itself a Gruyere since it is not from the Alps, the fact that it is not made with raw milk makes it the default pregnancy and compromised immune system cheese for that type of cheese and keeps me out of arguments about basic science.
**as it turns out we had paid (and checks were cashed, possibly by the “neighbor”) every invoice more than 15 days out.
***That’s ash, not mold. Isn’t is pretty?