Food and Health Archive

Open Letter to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Inc.
8418 Excelsior Drive
Madison, Wisconsin 53717

cc: Governor Walker, Senator Fitzgerald, House Speaker Fitzgerald

James Robson, President
Stan Woodworth, Vice President


The current Wisconsin budget crisis has caught the attention of many people outside of Wisconsin. The proposed budget, as it stands right now, seems to many of us as an unprecedented and undeserved attack on one of the most basic rights of organized labor: the right to collectively bargain. Customers at our store have been asking about what they can do. Some have even brought up their willingness and desire to boycott Wisconsin products if this current budget passes.

You know me. You know I have been a long-time supporter of Wisconsin cheese and that we carry a lot of it, especially for a California supermarket. I have no wish to stop carrying any of your numerous cheeses that we have on our shelves. (It varies of course, but right now we have about 40 different cheeses from about 15 Wisconsin cheesemakers.) I love Wisconsin cheese.

However, if this current budget passes it will make Wisconsin a bad word among many people who shop and who work in our store. Since you are in the marketing business, you can well understand that the kind of result a political decision like this can have in many of the cities that sell a lot of specialty cheese. You know that it doesn’t take much of a decline in sales for a perishable food to lose its place on the shelves; that’s the nature of the business. It doesn’t even require an organized boycott, just the change in consumer perception from Wisconsin being a “friendly state of cheese lovers” to “that mean-spirited state that hates unions and teachers”. Because I care about Wisconsin dairy farmers on a personal and professional basis, I do not want to see that happen.

For the good of Wisconsin cheesemakers I personally ask that you put what pressure you can bear on the legislature to not pass a budget that strips organized labor of their rights. This is an issue that goes beyond Democrat or Republican and beyond state lines. Taking a budget crisis (that many see as manufactured for this purpose) as an excuse to end the right to collectively bargain is wrong.

This is not a threat. I am not speaking for my workplace because, as a cooperative, my workplace is a democracy and does not have an official position on this issue. What I am saying is that the Wisconsin state budget has ceased to be a local issue. What happens next may very well affect every business in the state. Since Wisconsin’s most visible business is cheese, I think you owe it to your members to take a stand against this budget.

Thank you,
Gordon Edgar
Cheese Buyer

Read the original post on Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

Return of the Mac

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

How could judging the SF Food Wars Mac and Cheese contest not be awesome? I did a lot of great events with my book, but I think this judging gig may have been the most fun. 16 macaroni and cheeses to taste? And the one vegan entry dropped out? What’s not to love?

I’m from a casserole culture, and as casseroles go, I will say I like my tuna noodle casseroles a little better than my mac and cheeses, but it’s a pretty close fight. Being an, ahem, cheese professional, I suppose I should switch my allegiance publicly to mac and cheese, but often mac and cheese is functional, a way to clean out my fridge of all those cheese samples and odds and ends.

Compared to other contests I’ve judged, this was a pretty loose: no score sheets, no comments, just eat and compare. Hey, you could even talk to other judges! Which was great because I was judging with Heidi Gibson from the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen and Tamara Palmer, “Resident Judge”.

Anyways, I’d say that I would have been happy eating a full plate of almost any of the dishes served to me. When one is put in the position of judging, you have to make some distinctions that you would never make if you were eating at a friend’s house, or even a restaurant. Side by side, one dish being a little more bready, or a little too salty is much more obvious than in real life. After tasting them all, and then re-tasting some of our favorites though, we were pretty unified in our decision that the Boffo Cart “Vermont Cheese Forest” was our favorite.

Here it is all nestled snuggly in its maple-sugar bacon nest:

I will say that our 2nd place winner: Fowl Mouthed Ladies “Quack and Cheese” (with duck confit) stopped me in my tracks when I first tasted it. I would have been happy if this had been the winner as well. Our 3rd place winner: JazzyB’z Recipez “Pork Belly Mac” was really the most classic version we had, at least to us. I think Heidi was the one who suggested that if we did this again there could be prizes for classic vs. freestyle.

The People’s Choice winner was one of our favorites too. SF Delicious Catering made “Smoked Up Mac” that came with habanero-infused olive oil on the side and little jalapenos on top. Super good:

I really loved the pickled accompaniments with the runner-up People’s Choice award. I can’t figure out how to make a cent or euro symbol with my keyboard but they called it “The Crusty Vermonter” even though they admitted using mostly Velveeta after they won their award. Debbie Does Dinner’s Butternut Squash Mac ‘n Cheese is also worthy of mention for making the one I would most likely copy for home use. I don’t cook a lot of meat at home, but I do love some squash and hazelnuts!

(People’s Choice Winner, People’s Choice Runner-up and the Butternut Squash cooker looking like she wants to kill me for taking her picture which I didn’t notice until I uploaded the pics at home)

Here’s the Photographer’s Choice winner. It sure looked good:

So anyways, an awesome time was had by all. If anyone out there is having cheese or cheese-oriented cooking contests, I’m available as a judge. Especially if there’s free beer.

Look how happy Laurie is with her plate of food!

Read the original post on Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

“Persian” “Fetta” from “Australia”

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

So, how long do you think it took for a Persian-American customer to (rightfully) be all, “WTF with this “Persian” “Fetta” from Australia?”


I have no idea why they call it “Persian”. I mean, as opposed to our other Australian marinated feta, this one is made with cow milk which seems less Persian than most other soft, brined cheeses. Supposedly, its been marketed that way in Australia for years. In fact, there was a lawsuit about whether or not Yarra Valley owned the name “Persian Fetta”. They lost. I also found an amusing debate on the internet from 2007 about whether this feta had anything to do with Persia/Iran. The consensus seems to be, “no”.

I bought these because the cheese is good and it’s one of those dirt-cheap mistake cheeses, 8.8 oz cans we are retailing for $2.99 ea until they are gone. But, the same way I wouldn’t sell the “French” Yogurt cheese that was made in Wisconsin and won’t sell the “Marin Cheese Company” Feta that’s made in France, I avoid misleading labels. We are making it very clear that it’s actually from Australia, but I’ll be glad when it’s gone… even though the can is actually very cute and I bought some myself. We carry this cheese regularly under a label that just calls it marinated feta.

Oh, and the question in the first sentence was a trick. The answer was negative five minutes. The customer saw me opening the box. I hadn’t even gotten it on the shelf yet!

Read the original post on Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

My Year of Self-Promotion (Part 3)

Friday, February 4th, 2011

So, I miscounted. I actually did 34 events. Sheesh, just reading this list makes me tired.

20. 6/8 Alexander Books, SF I will fully admit that I don’t get downtown much. Alexander Books does lunchtime reading downtown and I never knew it until they asked me to read. A great, interested crowd materialized out of nowhere and disappeared just as fast at the end. A great way to spend a lunch break

21. 6/11 Readers Books, Sonoma What a beautiful place to read. Outdoors right off the town square. This is a great little bookstore and a very food-knowledgeable crowd. And, since it was in the North Bay, friends of my parents showed up.

22. 6/23 Get Lost Travel Bookstore, SF Another place I read at that later went out of business. The owner was a regular customer for years and this was one of my favorite bookstores in SF. I never missed a visit to Get Lost before I went anywhere on vacation. Lee’s partner got a job in another state that he couldn’t turn down so it’s understandable why they closed up shop. But they are very much missed. Get Lost was one of my favorite things in San Francisco.

23. 7/12 18 Reasons, SF with Laura Werlin Great little space for food talk Doing an event with Laura was fun. Our different styles worked together well and we had fabulous cheese.

24. 8/2 Encuentro Café, Oakland Very crowded and I kept it short because people were hungry. They made an amazing glossy, color poster for the event. This place is part-owned by a co-worker’s wife and a bunch of Rainbow workers who live in the East Bay showed up. Encuentro is a terrific veggie restaurant and wine bar and after I was done some folks called me over to talk about vegan cheese.

25. 8/24 Calf and the Kid, Seattle, WA OMG, my ears popped on the airplane so I couldn’t hear, I was snotty from judging 100 cheeses during the day, and the restaurant next to the cheese shop had their music on way loud, but this was an awesome event at an awesome shop. Up the Cheese punks!

26. 8/26 American Cheese Society Conference, Seattle Usually these kinds of sit down signings suck, but this was completely rewarding. It was great to be in a crowd of peers who (at least the ones who approached me) appreciated my book. If my book had been unpopular here, I would have considered it a failure. Satisfying and fun!

27. 9/18 Skylight Books, Los Angeles I fell in love with this bookstore. I wanna write another book just so I can read there again. Hopefully this time my car won’t die on my way home. Oh, and reading in front of a stack of Ellroy’s new book was hilariously ironic.
skylight books readings

28. 10/7 Litquake at Book Passage, SF I’ll be honest, I didn’t sell many books here, but I had an awesome time. It was a crowd that cared deeply about writing and food and who laughed at all the right parts of my reading. Litquake is really a fun thing to participate in because it really does bring out the book lovers.

29. 10/23 Cheese Plus, SF Back behind a table trying not to take things personally. At least I got to hang out with Sasha Davies for a couple of hours. The Cheese Plus events are really fun places to be, I wish we could do these kinds of things at Rainbow, but we just have a pee-soaked alley, not a busy pedestrian street.

30. 11/2 SF Public Library RADAR Reading Series This was me, Novella Carpenter, Dori Midnight, and Chelsea Rae Klein and woah, what a packed house and diverse readers/artists. My only reading that included queer goth cemetery porn on the bill. Probably the youngest crowd I read to (my crowds were usually 35-50 years old I would guess). I had to explain what Reagan Cheese was and break the news that the Frugal Gourmet was likely a child molester.

31. 11/7 Pt. Reyes Books Pt. Reyes, CA I got to share the reading with Jill from Pt Reyes Farmstead Cheese and I think we encouraged each other to tell cheese gossip in public. I won’t repeat it here, but the folks who were there enjoyed it for sure.

32. 11/12 Oakland Museum of California (Lonely Planet), Oakland I got to sample out cheese and work with my old buddy (and co-worker) Rana. They made awesome trip itineraries for local cheesemaker visiting. The bookstore there is fabulous and the crowd that attends these free Friday night events is full of real people. I would do another event here in a second.

33. 12/18 Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, SF Ha. I actually did a book signing at the store. I had meant to do a reading at some point but we don’t have a good space for it. It was really weird standing behind a table at the store and not selling cheese. Still, it was a good thing even if I did get a little mocked by co-workers. My book made a great holiday gift!

34. 12/12 18 Reasons Book Club, SF I was honored when 18 Reasons made my book their book for December. The folks there all had read it and had interesting questions. It was a real treat to do this kind of event where people already know your book. I would love to do more of this in the future because it was a lot less answering of questions I get at work (“What’s the best way to store cheese?” was asked at every event) and more about themes in the book. A wonderful experience.

The only problem with all these events was that Schnitzel didn’t like that I was away so much:
Everyon'e a critic!

Read the original article on Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

My Year of Self-Promotion (Part 2)

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

9. 4/3 Omnivore, SF This is the food book hub of SF so I was honored to read here. It’s a crowded space for a reading so I probably shouldn’t encourage you to go see Kurt Timmermeister there on March 7, but I’ll be there (in the audience listening, not reading). Authors get a free half dozen eggs from the owners chickens! Definitely the most food-obsessed crowd I read to.

10. 4/11 Green Fest, SF I don’t know if this was a bad reading because of the torrential downpour outside, because I tried to tailor my reading to environmentalists and made it really depressing, because I scheduled this during Laurie’s birthday weekend and felt really guilty, or because I’m not sure I could be heard over the didgeridoo from the next booth. I was supposed to sign books afterwards, but the featured speaker (who got to speak in a drum-circle proof auditorium) had a line that passed in front of my seat so I just went home instead.

11. 4/17 Day of the Goat, Ferry Building, SF Reading outside during a farmers market is no fun. Still it was an awesome event complete with goats, goat cheese makers, and Maggie Foard who makes goat fudge (which we now carry. Perfect for Valentine’s Day) Loud like the Green Fest, but a lot more fun.

12. 4/23 Gallery Bookshop, Mendocino It was a long drive and I was wondering whether it would be worth it, but this turned out to be of the best readings I did. The local grocery store (Harvest Market) provided and set up the cheese, dairy farmers who I didn’t know showed up, and everyone was super friendly. I had always stopped in when I was in town, but now I really love this place!

13. 5/7 Micro Gallery, Santa Rosa My buddy Spring set this up and it was great. I gave my whole talk while sitting on a table that used to belong to Ronald Reagan. My butt, your face Ronnie!

14. 5/16 Seattle Cheese Fest Seattle, WA Man, no one wanted to talk to me about a book after they waited 45 minutes in line to eat cheese. I guess I sold a book or two. This was a humbled-behind-a-table event for sure. “No, there aren’t any cheese pictures. No, I do not have any cheese to feed you.” I decided I would take a proof copy of the book next time, cut it up, and give out sentences saying, “Free Samples”. Do you think it’d work?

And look how nice my display was!

15. 5/16 Elliott Bay Book Co., Seattle, WA I love Seattle and I love this bookstore. Truly the antidote to earlier in the day. They had just moved into the new location and it still smelled like fresh paint. Some of my oldest and best friends were there. My agent was there. My friend’s son asked for a specific piece to be read as an encore and I ended up incorporating that piece into every reading. The eight-year-old was right!

Look at the local Seattle cheese folks!
4 cheese folks 2

16. 5/17 Village Books, Bellingham, WA It was a surprisingly packed house (I found out later that the local college creative writing students got credit to attend) and I met some in-law relatives for the first time. Great set-up for a reading too. Unfortunately the hard rain soaked my car trunk ruining a few books. Boo hoo. Oh, in the hotel room I read my mention in the Washington Post so I will always have fond memories of that Super 8 even if I mostly used it to dry out my remaining copies..

17. 5/18 Olympia Food Co-op, Olympia, WA Because of a timing mix up I only had an hour but Michelle Noel and I tried to and try to sell books and Gothberg Farms goat cheese in a busy, crowded store. Saw a bunch of ex-Rainbow customers.

18. 5/18 Orca Books, OLYMPIA, WA I got all sentimental on the drive from Bellingham while listening to J Church and teared up as I read the Reagan section of my book and dedicated it to Lance Hahn. The punx in the audience nodded and gave encouragement but most folks were nonplussed. My most maudlin reading. I actually gave a few people a whole bucket of cheese as a consolation because the time had been posted wrong in one email and they arrived as I was taking my last question.

Here’s Lance on the back stairs of our apartment, sometime in 1993. RIP Lance.
1993 failure stairs

19. 5/19 Square Deal Wine and Cheese PORTLAND, OR (With Tami Parr) Sasha Davies set this up but then the store went out of business a couple of months after I read. I hope it was nothing I did. Too bad it went under; it was a really nice place! Great inquisitive crowd.

Read the original article on Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

My Year of Self-Promotion (Part 1)

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

One of the biggest problems last year was not having enough time. I was working full time and promoting the book (plus being in a serious relationship and getting a puppy) and I just had no time to write. This year will be different. While I will do an occasional promotional event (and definitely hit the Midwest and New York) I am going to be working on a new book. Still working out the details (and the contract) but I am super excited to be spending time writing instead of self-promoting.

I did 32 events last year. 32! And I am not including interviews or radio in that count either. While I didn’t get rich on the book,* I hadn’t expected to. It was successful beyond, well, maybe not my wildest dreams,** but certainly my pretty enthusiastic ones.

(photo by the awesome Myleen Hollero)

Because I deleted my events after they happened, I am going to list them all here so I don’t forget them as years go by. Feel free to skip these, but thanks to everyone who helped me get the word out about my book.

1. 2/20 Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference, Sonoma, CA My book came out early so I managed to premiere the book at my buddy Sheana’s yearly conference. I can’t think of a more appropriate place!

2. 2/20 Cheese Plus, SF Technically this was still a part of the Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference but it was at Ray’s store in San Francisco. Let the standing-around-behind-my-book humbling begin. Ari from Zingerman’s and I actually switched places and tried to sell each other’s books for awhile.

3. 2/25 Books Inc., Berkeley Calvin, the Berkeley Store manager, was incredibly supportive of my book. In fact, he had booked an event for it when it was supposed to come out on a different press in 2009 so I figured I owed him the first bookstore gig since he had to track me down to find out the book wasn’t coming out back then (my old press wasn’t returning phone calls). The Berkeley Books Inc. is really becoming a food book destination in the East Bay.

Plus, they made a home-made punk poster for my reading!
books inc flyer

4. 3/13 Modern Times/Amnesia, SF My first SF reading was sponsored by a co-op at the bar where I did most of my drinking in the early ‘90s. I saw some great bands there (The Fastbacks, Bratmobile, Tribe 8, Harris Flush etc.) here and I could barely believe I was on the same stage. This was an amazing experience. Look at the packed crowd!

5. 3/14 Book Passage, Corte Madera A hometown bookstore in the mall that used to have the Food Co-op back in the ‘70s. My parents invited all the parents of people I went to high school with so it was an odd, yet awesome, crowd. We even had two Seana/Sheanas serving cheese!

6. 3/20 Oregon Cheese Fest, Central Point, OR I thought this would be more stand-behind-copies-of-my-book-and-be-humiliated-while-no-one-cares but I underestimated the drunkenness of the participants and the sales pitch of the lovely Laurie Jones Neighbors. This event stood out for the two drunkies who insisted they knew how publishing worked and that I must have had the book ghostwritten.

7. 3/21 Reading Frenzy, Portland, OR I knew I loved Chloe and her fabulous store. I didn’t realize how awesome the Ace Hotel would be. I accidently read the paragraph about growing up Californian that I was going to omit when reading to Oregonians, oh well. Luckily, many of them were transplants. I totally cut myself while preparing cheese but managed not to bleed on the cheese or books.

8. 3/28 California Artisan Cheese Festival, Petaluma, CA Oh, the humbling of the behind-the-table book signing returns.

*I only put that in here for the non-writers. Anyone who’s published a book already knows I didn’t get rich from it.
**Wildest dreams redacted to keep this a family friendly post.

(Tomorrow: April and May)

Read the original post on Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

Sonoma Harvest Fair

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

In the craziness of last year, I just realized that I never wrote about judging for the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. Despite the fact that Sonoma County is a dairy hub, thanks to Sheana Davis this was the first year in a long time that they included a cheese category in their yearly, local awards.

They have an interesting way of judging at the Sonoma Harvest Fair. Since I put off writing this entry for 4 months, I now can’t remember what is was called… Swedish judging? Scandinavian judging? * Anyways, the judges sample the cheese — then before talking to each other — provisionally rank the cheese gold, silver, Bronze or no award. If there is disagreement, you take a couple of minutes to re-taste and try to convince the other judges to raise or lower their scores. Finally, judges give their final rank. With three judges, two votes out of three carried the award. In the case where all three judges award gold, the cheese gets awarded ”Double Gold”. From there we chose the best of show.

Here we are:

I was skeptical of this method because I had never used it before. At most cheese contests, a point system for different attributes is used, judges are not encouraged to lobby each other, and the total points carry the award. First, second, and third are usually limited to three cheeses (except in the case of ties).

By the end though, I kind of liked this system. Generally we agreed right off the bat and only once did we have a gold/silver/bronze split. Of course, we did have over 50 years of professional cheese experience among the three judges.

Amusingly enough, the Best in Show is a cheese that is no longer available. It is the Petaluma Creamery Dry Goat Jack with Peppercorns

dry goat jack with pppercorns

We actually carried this cheese for a couple of years, but I guess they lost their goat milk supply and this, including the winner, was cheese made awhile back and aged a long time.

I screwed up my picture of one of the runners up, Cameo, a soft-ripened goat cheese from Redwood Hill Farm, but I’ve written about it previously. I will just substitute the video by Cameo instead because I really can’t listen to this song enough:

The other runner up was from the Valley Ford Cheese Company for their Highway One.
Highway 1

Highway One is a very nice Fontina-style cheese from a farmstead family dairy that is only getting better and better.

Of course, I am really excited for my next judging gig. Yep, I am judging Mac and Cheese for SF Food Wars in a couple of weeks. This event sold out in about thirty seconds. I am not exaggerating.

*Anybody know? Help me out here, my googling didn’t yield any results.

Read the original article on Gordonzola’s Blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.


Monday, January 24th, 2011

“I would like to file a complaint. I’m being discriminated against.”

As an urban grocery store worker — unless you work in one of those neighborhoods so fancy they might as well have gates — you develop a tough skin. Now, I’ve written about retail workers as the new social service agents before, and to me this adds to that point. For our own protection, we have to sniff out the bullshitters right away.

At a co-op conference years ago, we once dismayed some fellow cooperators by our attitude. During a presentation, a co-op grocery worker from a small college town started crying while re-telling a story about a crazy customer who asked them (repeatedly and somewhat threateningly), “Do you have to be a lesbian to shop here?”

The Rainbow workers in attendance started laughing. She tried to turn the tables, asking, “What would you have done?”

The response, pretty much in unison, “Kick him the fuck out of the store!”

Because – in this day and age of underfunded safety nets and general despair – that kind of random abuse is a common occurrence at places, especially where odd-looking people are not kicked out right away. We are a store that is a beacon for the odd, so we get more than our fair share. Our freak flag still flies even if a lot more classes of people want natural foods than did in 1975.

Abusive customers are common enough that over a decade ago we voted to give the power, on a shift basis, to one worker in the store at all times. A permanent ban needs to go to an elected committee, but our Front End Coordinator has the power to kick someone out for the day: immediately and with no appeal.

True, this is partly because it’s really awkward to try and hold a vote on such things while trying to run a store. Someone always used to pipe in with, “She’s just off her meds,” or “He’s a Nam vet, you have to cut him some slack.” But it was a common enough problem, that we had to give someone what is – for us – almost unheard of power.

So anyways, I was still putting on my apron last Saturday. I had just walked in the door and the counter was crazy. Right away I saw trouble. Now, being a drug addict and a shopper at our store is, generally speaking, just fine. Some people can manage these things and lord knows many habitual drug users could use vitamin supplements and fresh food. But when someone gets right up in your face, has little bleeding wounds from over-scratching, is holding half eaten food, and is being followed by two of your co-workers (one of whom is the aforementioned Front End Coordinator), the benefit of the doubt is not with them.

“I would like to file a complaint. I’m being discriminated against.”

Let’s also note, for the record, that this is a white woman being pursued by my co-workers who are Black and Latina. “Well then, maybe you better leave,” I said. Flustered and twitchy she hurried away without another word.

A minute later, when I thought of it, I wished I had added, “Being a junkie thief is not a protected class!” I will try and remember to use that next time.

Later I found out she had a novel way of drawing our collective ire. Instead of just eating out of the bulk bins or off the produce shelves like a normal junkie, she was actually taking food out of other people’s carts and eating it!

It’s true, we do discriminate against that.

Read the original article on Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

2010 Wrap Up Part 5: Questions for 2011 and beyond

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Because the cheese era is changing (see last entry), we are at a crossroads. The 70s and 80s cheese folks – as a whole – have a great deal of credibility and honesty associated with their work and that has reflected well on all of us working in the business today. What will happen next is unclear.

There are a lot of issues with credibility on the table right now. Companies that never thought they’d be secure have expanded beyond their wildest dreams. Despite the fact that the word “artisan” has no real definition, as a cheesemonger I can assure people reading that consumers have a lot of trust in the concept of “artisan cheese”. The loose definitions (like “artisan”) used by many small producers, however, leave these vulnerable to cynical marketing and manipulation by other, larger forces.

“Artisan cheese” is often being sold right now as if it’s an offering from the one person to another. Farmers markets — even when the person selling the cheese may never have even touched a ruminant– promote this idea whether they intend to or not. But as companies get bigger, get sold to outside interests, or start buying supplies from outside the region, the credibility earned with such hard work over the years is endangered.

Let me say briefly (since this issue has already popped up in discussions about this “2010 Wrap Up” series) that I have no issue with any company using frozen curd (for goats) or frozen milk (for sheep). I do have an issue with the marketing of a product as local when the ingredients are not (at least almost entirely) local. I think this is a huge issue for the future if customers start feeling lied to by cheese companies, especially when they buy them at a farmers market under the illusion that they are supporting a local business.

Certainly this issue only affects a subset of cheese eaters, obviously almost no customer in California cares if a Vermont cheese is using Midwest curd (as a “buy local” issue), but they do care if a company is advertising their “terroir” but are not entirely of that region.

(I use this picture to illustrate my point. I drove hundreds of miles out of my way to see the “World’s Largest Cheese”. When I found out it was a replica of the box the World’s Largest Cheese was shipped in, I distrusted Wisconsin cheesemakers for years)
cheese replica

This is kind of my hobby horse I guess… I like definitions, even if I do not necessarily feel qualified to make them. Farmers often get itchy when people start talking about certification programs, but very soon, as consumers get more educated, more questions will be asked. And not just about regionality, I just chose that because it’s an issue bubbling up all over the cheese world right now.

If a cheese is made with curd or milk from hundreds of miles away, is it local to anywhere? What percentage of non-local curd or milk makes it alocal?*

Can someone call a cheese’s ruminant “grass-fed” if they just let her graze occasionally? Or does it have to be part of an agricultural system that eschews grain-based feed?

Can dairies continue to be called “farmstead” if they have too many cows to name or if cheesemaking is not their primary form of business?

If Jack in the Box describes their fast food bread as “artisan” can the word really continue to have any meaning at all?

What is “small production”?… Could this cheese be considered “Domestic Fair Trade”?… Do the marketing images of a cheese company correspond to the look of the actual farm and the people doing most of the actual labor?…

So many questions…

I have my own answers to a lot of these, obviously. And cheese people are already working on defining some of these as well, but I think — moving forward — these are some things that need to be thought about in the coming years. Of course, these questions have their roots in the problem of success. The craft cheese business is more popular than ever as is the sophistication level of its customers. Not dealing honestly with many of these questions poses a real danger to the next era of the new American cheese.

(When I went to see “The World’s Largest Holstein Cow”**, on the other hand, the truth in advertising made me a happy boy.)

*”alocal”. I just made that word up, but I like it. Without locality. As in, “You can’t talk about that cheese’s terroir because it’s alocal”
**Such specificity! Not the “Largest Jersey Cow”! Not the “Largest Guernsey Cow”! Nope, the “Largest Holstein”.

Read the original article on Gordonzola’s Blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

2010 Wrap Up, Part 4: One era ending, nothing beginning.

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

2010 saw the death of two important cheese people who I knew: Jim Boyce, who reenergized Marin French Cheese, the oldest continually operating cheese plant in the country and Kathy Obringer who was making great cheese at Ancient Heritage Dairy in Oregon. Though both these folks died before their time, it’s a sad fact that many of the folks who started the reinvigoration of small cheese production in this country are aging.

Cheesemaking is a vocation for the patient. Many of the folks who began reigniting this tradition of started their work in the ‘70s or early ‘80s. That means they’ve been at it for 30 years or so. A number of them, especially the goat folks, were back-to-landers who do not have children who wish to carry on their cheese legacy. What’s going to happen?

What will happen in the future is an open question. Some, like Sally Jackson will sell their animals and equipment and retire. Some, like the Gingriches of Uplands Cheese passed on the cheesemaking mantle to a younger generation. Others, like Mary Keehn of Cypress Grove will keep their legacy – and rural jobs – alive by selling their companies. That these companies may get sold to companies not rooted in the local area may change the nature of the new American cheese business.

When one looks at the pictures of the first years of the American Cheese Society conferences it’s clear that those folks were in it for the passion, obsession, love of the animals or completely by accident. There were no flighty sales reps in those pictures, no one in suits (except for possibly a European guest or dairy science professor here and there). The ACS was an organization of mutual aid in large part. The only people crazy enough to try to make small production cheese had to stick together.

Those days are long gone, as days tend to be, but a lot of the original folk are still around right now. You can still meet them at conferences and bask in the oral tradition of craft cheesemaking history around the bar! However, the way the math works out, we are looking at the last remaining years of this generation actively working in the business. I have my worries about the future,* but either way this era of the cheese world is ending and a new one beginning.

I just want to take this opportunity to say thanks to all the original cheese visionaries in this country. You’ve changed our agricultural world.

mansfield cheeese

*I am a worrier by nature. That’s why my girlfriend insisted we get a terrier because we’d be so well suited for each other.

Read the original post on Gordonzola’s blog.

cheesemonger Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.