Washington County Cheese Tour This Weekend

This weekend, Washington County cheese makers will host the annual Cheese Tour on Saturday and Sunday, September 7-8 from 10 AM to 4 PM. Come sample fine cheeses in a bucolic setting, see the animals, and view the farms and countryside.

Washington County is home to some of New York and Vermont’s finest farmstead and artisan cheese makers in the country. Washington County bridges the rolling countryside between Eastern New York and Vermont, and each year, the cheese makers open their farms to visitors for a driving or 21 – mile cycling weekend tour.

Washington County sheep crossing sign close to 3 - Corner Field Farm

Washington County sheep crossing sign close to 3 – Corner Field Farm

Charming country pastures and six pristine farms are the perfect place to sample local sheep, goat, and cow’s milk cheeses. Washington County offers all the variety of traditional cheese making culture from yogurt, to young, soft, and bloomy-rind cheese, to natural aged, washed-rind, and blues.  Moreover, some of the cheeses have taken national awards at the American Cheese Society’s annual competition, placing first, second, or third in their category out of over 1,800 cheeses.

3-Corner Field Farm

3-Corner Field Farm

Among the farms to host the tour are:

1 – Argyle Cheese Farmer
2 – 3-Corner Field Farm
3 – Consider Bardwell Farm
4 – Homestead Artisans at Longview Farm
5 – Sweet Spring Farm
6 – Sugarloaf Farm

Washington County New York Cows relaxing on a sunny day at late morning.

Washington County New York Cows relaxing on a sunny day at late morning.

Last year, The Cheese Traveler visited the two farms Consider Bardwell Farm and Sweet Spring Farm, and this year, we are a sponsor for the Cheese Tour. You can read about our trip last year in “Weekend Adventures of The Cheese Traveler.” We are very excited to support our local cheese makers. This week in the store, you can enjoy a 10% discount on Washington County cheeses including 3 – Corner Field Farm yogurt, Brebis Blanche, Shushan Snow, Battenkill Brebis, Frere Fumant, and Consider Bardwell Farm Manchester, Dorset, Rupert, and Pawlett. Come in for a preview!

Frere Fumant from 3-Corner Field Farm

Frere Fumant from 3-Corner Field Farm

Jeff Bowers of Sweet Spring Farm

Jeff Bowers of Sweet Spring Farm

Gouda from Longview Farm

Gouda from Longview Farm

Manchester and Cheese List from Consider Bardwell

Manchester and Cheese List from Consider Bardwell

You can access this year’s Cheese Tour Brochure at this link: 2013 Washington County Cheese Tour.

Locality, Farm-to-Table, and the Future of American Cheese: Musings on This Year’s American Cheese Society’s Conference

Earlier this month the American Cheese Society (ACS) celebrated its 30th anniversary in Madison, WI, the largest dairy-producing state in the United States. The conference ‘A Dairy State of Mind’ brought together cheese makers, dairy scientists, cheese retailers, importers, and distributors and featured ACS’ national, annual cheese competition of over 1790 cheeses and various workshops.

Cheese makers meet Cheesemongers. L-R Mary Quicke of Quickes Farm, Eric Paul of The Cheese Traveler, and Chris of Consider Bardwell Farm
Cheesemakers meet Cheesemongers. L-R Mary Quicke of Quickes Farm, Eric Paul of The Cheese Traveler, and Chris Gray of Consider Bardwell Farm

Eric Paul, Cheesemonger-owner of The Cheese Traveler, remarks, “The State of Wisconsin and the City of Madison were great hosts. We toured farms and hung out with local cheese makers and checked out the amazing delights of the city.” Many cheesemakers were like Chris Roelli, of Roelli Cheese and the beloved Dunbarton Blue, who woke up at 3 AM to milk the animals and make cheese before driving into the conference to meet and network with fellow cheesemakers, distributors, and retailers.

City retailers got into the excitement of ACS: Fromagination, a retailer located on the square, converted its cheese display to showcase local and regional Wisconsin cheeses. Slipping away from the conference, Mr. Paul explored the Madison Farmers’ Market, the largest producer-only market in the U.S. A coveted spot in this market took Nancy Potter of our favored Potter’s Crackers four years to get in!

During the busy day Mr. Paul ate lots of fried cheese curd (click here to see Gordon Edgar’s blog post on this regional specialty); and imbibed reasonable, but copious amounts of, New Glaurus Spotted Cow Ale, a regional specialty, all while amidst old friends, making new friends, attending workshops, tasting some of our favorite cheeses and products, and discovering new ones.

Madison, WI Farmer's Market, currently the largest outdoor market in the USA
Madison, WI Farmer’s Market, currently the largest outdoor market in the USA

The conference themes “farm-to-table,” and “local” are concepts that we at The Cheese Traveler set out to put into practice. Odessa Piper, founder of the famed Madison restaurant L’Etoile and 1970s pioneer of the sustainable, locally-sourced movement, in her opening keynote address outlined the ideas behind ‘local’ and ‘farm to table’ and shared her reflections on a life in the industry. She noted that the definitions are not a simple designation of miles from a central location, but rather, “local [or terroir] is a distance best measured by our hearts.” Locality is a relationship of the consumer to the producer. Eric Paul of The Cheese Traveler adds, “This relationship is, in some ways, sentimental; it’s about our individual relationship to the bounty of the land. It has to do with going to the land and seeing and experiencing it.”

Uplands Cheese, makers of Pleasant Ridge and Rush Creek reserve award-winning cheeses
Uplands Cheese, makers of Pleasant Ridge and Rush Creek reserve award-winning cheeses

This topic resonated throughout the conference. Valerie Henbest, while talking about the importance of signage on cheese during her panel An International View of Cheesemongering, said, “[the sign] ties the customer to the story – distance needs more poetry.” In other words, the greater the distance a customer is located from the terroir, the greater the need for ‘poetry,’ a story or beautiful words that capture the spirit of the land. Through language rather than personal experience, the relationship can be felt. As a merchant retailer, The Cheese Traveler travels to the producer to develop a relationship and returns to its customers in Albany to share the story of the cheese makers and their cheeses. As well, The Cheese Traveler shares with blog readers a love of traditional, artisanally-crafted cheese and foods.

A quick snapshot of The International Cheese Guild's Annual Ceremony

A quick snapshot of The International Guild du Fromage (International Cheese Guild)’s Annual Induction Ceremony

At the Keynote breakfast and later at the induction ceremony for the International Guild du Fromage, Eric had the pleasure of spending time with Mary Quicke of Quickes Farmhouse Cheddar located in Devon, England. Quicke’s family has been making traditional cheddar in Devon from raw, grass-fed milk on their 450 year old, 1,200 acres estate. She described the farm as a fascinating place where Pangaea had once been united. Ms. Quicke asked if we sell her cheese at The Cheese Traveler. Without hesitation, Eric answered that his shop does sell her traditional clothbound cheddar, because the story of cheese is the story of tradition: even though there are delicious American farmhouse cheddars, made and aged in the traditional British way, great American producers descend from European ancestors. Eric calls European cheeses “the antecedents of American cheeses,” because of his background in Classical philology. The Cheese Traveler wants its customers to be aware of this tradition, so the shop sells both domestic and imported small-scale, traditional cheeses.

As a cheese shop, The Cheese Traveler’s role is to develop relationships with producers and become knowledgeable about all aspects of the cheeses sold in our shop. At ACS, Eric was able to talk with U.S and international cheese makers about their farms and their methods of cheese making. In addition to the aforementioned conversations and discoveries, Eric developed three important relationships with some of America’s most acclaimed cheese makers: Jasper Hill Farm, Consider Bardwell Farm, and Uplands Cheese. We are excited about how these new developments will change our shop for the better!

Jasper Hill Farm. Out of Mr. Paul’s meetings, there came about a new and very exciting development. In the coming weeks, Eric and his team of cheesemongers will begin periodic visits to Jasper Hill Farm to taste and select the cheeses sold at The Cheese Traveler. This hand-selecting will deepen our relationship with Jasper Hill – their cheese makers, the farmland, and ultimately the story of their cheeses – and ensure that we are getting the tastiest cheese. Jasper Hill Farm won five awards this year, including three first place finishes and the coveted Best of Show award for Winnimere. We are planning our first visit up to Greensboro, Vermont on August 25th and 26th. Zoe Brickley of Jasper Hill, who prior to moving to Vermont was a manager at Murray’s Cheese in New York City, will come down to The Cheese Traveler later that week for guest cheesemonger, training, and lots of tasting. We’ll announce the date of Brickley’s visit on Facebook and Twitter.

Consider Bardwell Farm. Eric spoke with Chris Gray about touring and making cheese at Consider Bardwell Farm. Consider Bardwell has been a great supporter of The Cheese Traveler, helping out and sampling at our Grand Opening last November. Be sure to check them out at the Washington County Cheese Tour, which is coming up on September 7th & 8th (Click here to go to the Washington County Cheese Tour’s website). The Cheese Traveler is thrilled to be one of the sponsors of the tour this year!

Uplands Cheese. The day after ACS, Eric rented a car and drove an hour west of Madison to Dodgeville to visit Uplands Cheese. As Eric drove out to Dodgeville, he saw Wisconsin’s sloping hills, different from the state’s terrain that had been scraped flat by receding glaciers at the end of the last ice age. Eric spent the afternoon with Andy Hatch, who just a few days prior announced that he was buying the farm from the original owners and who happens to have family in Schoharie, County. They walked the fields, visited the herd, toured the cheese making and aging rooms, and tasted three different batches of Pleasant Ridge Reserve.1

Wisconsin's Farm fields at Uplands Cheese
Wisconsin’s Farm fields at Uplands Cheese

Eric talked with Andy about how he and his cheese makers develop the complexity in their cheeses: raw grass-fed milk and careful aging. They produce rich, complex milk by cultivating a complex mixed breed of cows and encourage complex microflora in the milk (good bacterial diversity) by only feeding cows grass and rotating them from paddock to paddock. As Andy walked with Eric through the creamery, he told him that the goal of the cheese making process is precision and consistency. Andy went on to say that a careful and laborious aging process brings out the complex flavor in the Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese. Young wheels are washed and turned daily and aged on wood, cheeses in the middle of their aging are washed 3x per week and turned, and cheeses at the end of their aging are washed 2x per week. Andy and Eric tasted three batches of Pleasant Ridge Reserve, enjoying the complex flavor and differences in each batch. We are eagerly anticipating the coming season of Rush Creek Reserve this fall.2

Competition: This year over 1795 cheeses were entered in the competition. Here are some of the award-winning cheeses that you can find in our shop:

Best of Show – Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere.

  • First3– Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. Ewe’s Blue,4 Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere, Spring Brook Tarentaise, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Rogue River Blue, Boston Post Dairy Eleven Brothers.
  • Second – Rupert, Marieke Premium Gouda, Caveman Blue, Baetje Farm Bloomsdale, Grafton Village Vermont Clothbound Cheddar.
  • Third – Cooperstown Cheese Jersey Girl,5 Jasper Hill Farm Harbison, Upland’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Avalanche Goat Cheddar, Evalon, Dancing Fern.

New Cheeses: Of course there were also new cheeses from familiar and new creameries. We are excited to bring you these cheeses in the coming weeks and months.

  • Meadowood Farm – in Cazenovia, in Madison County, NY, is in our backyard. Meadowood Farm makes farmstead sheep, and cow and with sheep mixed milk cheeses. We plan on getting Rippleton (a washed-rind, sheep’s milk cheese reminiscent of the washed-rind sheep’s milk cheeses from Corsica, but washed in fresh, unfermented beer from Empire Brewing in Syracuse), and Ledyard (a ripened, sheep’s milk similar to the leaf-wrapped robiolas from Piedmont, aged in wild grape leaves that have been soaked in a wheat beer brewed with local concord grapes). Look for Meadowood Farm cheeses in the shop in September after everyone returns from vacationing in early September.
  • Ruggles Hill Creamery – every Ruggles Hill creamery goat cheese we tasted confirmed for us that they are making some of the best goat cheeses in America. They are a micro-creamery, meaning they milk only 28 goats. This limited supply could also mean that it will be difficult for us to get their cheese, however we’re hoping that Eric’s hometown connections will help (he was raised in Hardwick, where the Ruggles Hill farm and creamery are located.
  • Floryis Truckle – this was a delicious cloth-bound cheddar aged over 12 months. It is made in Missouri and was honored with 2nd place in its category. It had a rich texture and complex layered flavors that were not too sweet: reminiscent of the British clothbound cheddar.

    Sampling Floryis Truckle

    Sampling Floryis Truckle

  • Bleu Mont Creamery –Willi Lehner has a tiny creamery in Wisconsin where he uses grass-fed milk from Uplands Cheese. Lehner took home a numerous awards in the competition including the first creamery ever to tie itself when their 12 Month Bandaged Cheddar and Big Sky Grana tied for 3rd in the Best of Show competition. Everything Eric tasted from them was delicious and full of flavor. Lehner makes cheese in very limited supply, but we are excited to try to get some over the next few months.

Specialty Food: Accompaniments are a cheeses best friend and so at ACS there were many tasty accompaniments we enjoyed and plan to bring to the shop. Here is a sampling of what you might expect to see coming to the shop:

  • Creminelli Salami – we tasted some great Creminili salami at the show and we are sure their salami will eventually make its way to our shop, particularly the bacon salami, the Camanial and the luscious Musica.
  • Smoking Goose Charcuterie – a new small production salumier out of Indiana, who sources their meat from local, sustainable, natural farms. They are experimenters who are not afraid to make great tasting, more exotic meats. They have a wonderful duck prosciutto.
  • Treat – Sarah Marx Feldner has a little bake shop in Milwaukee, WI where she makes spiced pecans. She makes a candied pecan and a candied spiced pecan that have excellent flavor and a wonderfully, crispy, candied coating.

Special acknowledgement goes out to David, Josh, Callen, Leigh, Joanne Tilley and Ali who did an awesome job sampling and selling the delicious, traditional and artisan products we have at the shop and at the Delmar Farmer’s Market while Eric was away. Great job everyone! The shop and market stand looked great!

1 Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which won 3rd place this year, is the only cheese to win Best of Show at the American Cheese Society 3x’s, the only 3x winner in the Cheese Category at the Good Food Award, a winner of Best of Show at the U.S. Cheese Championship (making it is the only cheese to win both ACS and the US Cheese Championship), and a super gold winner at the Guild of Fine Foods’ World Cheese Awards. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is a mainstay on our cheese counter.

2 Uplands makes Rush Creek Reserve when the animals are coming to the end of their lactation cycle and they are producing richer milk. Rush Creek is an un-cooked, un-pressed, washed rind cheese that is wrapped in spruce bark, made in the style of Vacherin Mont d’Or.

3 Cheese that win fist place in their category complete for Best Of Show.

4 We carry Old Chatham’s Shaker Blue which is made in smaller batches from raw milk. The texture tends to be slightly more firm than Ewe’s Blue; the flavor is more complex with earthy, brothy, lanolin notes.

5 Sharon Tomaselli, the cheese maker of Cooperstown Cheese let out the happiest shriek of the competition when Jersey Girl was announced the winner third place winner in the prestigious open category American Original.

Celebrating American Cheese Month

October is American Cheese Month, begun annually since its inception last year through the American Cheese Society (ACS) and The State of Colorado. While the words “American Cheese” to many American readers may conjure up images of the ubiquitous solid yellow mass that turns into a gooey melty foodstuff, invented nearly one hundred years ago, this iconic symbol of American industrial food culture is not exactly what ACS means to promote. The larger category of American Cheese, including farmstead, artisan, cooperative, as well as industrially-produced natural cheeses is ACS’ prerogative. Like ACS, this month The Cheese Traveler will be celebrating our wide variety of delicious, award-winning, and spectacular small production American cheeses. Still, it’s hard to hear the words American Cheese Month and not indulge in thoughts of processed cheese synonymous with U.S. Patriotism and North American culture.

Adopted from Swiss technology and patented in the U.S. by Ontario-born James L. Kraft, so-called “American Cheese” caught the wave of the industrial revolution that promoted ease, efficiency, and economy in food production driven by the desire of both the producer and the consumer. Swiss food technicians Walter Gerber and Ted Kennel in 1911 discovered emulsifying salts’ and heat’s effect on coagulating naturally aged cheese to produce a new “product.”

This method derived from traditional fondue recipes that use additives such as beer and wine to keep the protein from separating from the oil during heating. Sodium phosphate, tartrate or citrate “help stabilize processed cheese by taking calcium from the milk protein and exchanging it with sodium. This allows the proteins to hold water, thickening the cheese” (Chapman). Cooked curd cheeses such as the German Kochkase and French Concoillotte may also be the conceptual origins of processed cheese for their meltable structure and additives in the ripening process. American Cheddar and Colby, also cooked curd cheeses, were the first cheeses to be used in processed “American Cheese” for their wide availability as well as their meltability.

Zey Ustunol, Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at MSU, remarks: “Processed cheese is made from natural cheeses that may vary in degree of sharpness of flavor. Natural cheeses are shredded and heated to a molten mass. The molten mass of protein, water and oil is emulsified during heating with suitable emulsifying salts to produce a stable oil-in-water emulsion. Depending on the desired end use, the melted mixture is then reformed and packaged into blocks, or as slices, or into tubs or jars. Processed cheeses typically cost less than natural cheeses; they have longer shelf-life, and provide for unlimited variety of products.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kraft, a savvy businessman,

James L. Kraft, food industry pioneer

immediately seized on the emerging technology and patented it in the U.S., foreseeing the possibilities for its advancement in and of food culture. Consequently, he secured military food contracts during WWI based on the product’s durability. Upon the soldiers’ return, men who developed a taste for the mild, slightly sweet and salty, standardized taste of the processed cheese found it easily obtainable in the emergent industrial processed food market. Most people at the time, did not have access to cold food storage and Kraft’s cheese did not need refrigeration and could be kept up to ten months, in both warm and cold climates. Processed cheese was more expensive than its predecessor; however, natural cheese was more perishable. It did not have a consistent shelf life and could neither withstand the heat of the southern and western climates, nor the difficulty of interstate shipment. Thus, the processed variety, “American Cheese,” began to unify the modern industrial nation.

On the other hand, traditionally-produced cheese has a long history in North America. Colonial settlers brought European and British cheesemaking traditions to the New World. U.S. cheeses developed in New England and migrated West, first following the Erie canal and its subsidiaries and then the railroad further westward, as cold storage methods improved cheese’s portability, into Ohio, Wisconsin, and beyond to Oregon and the Western seaboard. According to the National Historic Cheesemaking Center: “Puritan woman were the artisans of cheese during [the colonial] period…On the farm, it was almost always the role of women to make cheese and carry on the tradition.” Cheesemaking was a necessity to the settlers, thereby turning what would spoil into a stable product, given the right climatic conditions. The famous words of journalist and critic Clifton Fadiman characterize this economy: A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be oversophisticated. Yet it remains cheese, milk’s leap toward immortality. By early 1800, cheesemaking moved from New England to the Mohawk region of New York, where the first cheese factory was built, auspiciously in Rome, NY.

view of Rome, NY

As the farmstead U.S. cheese economy shifted to cooperative and industrial models, women’s role in cheesemaking subsided, paving the way for industrial progress and consumer demand. Following the cheesemaking methods developed in NY State factories, US cheese production focused on harder British style cheeses, which came to be known as “American Cheddar.” These cheeses were easier to produce on a large scale, fit well with the development of the industrial dairy model, and provided a more consistent and stable product for consumers. As cheesemaking spread to the Midwest, production of Colby (another British style) and Brick Cheese (Swiss/German style) became a widespread part of American cheesemaking tradition.

Kraft’s production of processed “American cheese” has always relied on the cheesemaking industry because Kraft uses the scraps and byproducts of naturally aged cheese as its foundation. Kraft’s process meted out the variations of the different refuse cheeses, some being mild and others quite sharp, by blending them through both heat and emulsification, thereby creating a very standardized product with little to no variation from one loaf to the next. In addition to its longevity, it had superior meltability, easily applicable to the emerging “fast food” business.

The Great Depression of the 1930s and WWII marked the test case for processed cheese. As women were drawn into the workforce, they needed fast, cheap meals. Kraft’s mac-n-cheese was one such answer. Marketed as a four person meal for 19 cents and a meal in under seven minutes that didn’t need a stove: “By 1930 over 40% of cheese consumed in the U.S. was Kraft’s — and that was in spite of its relatively high price. Thanks to clever advertising, Kraft was able to charge more in exchange for a promise of safety and consistency, even though the product was derived from inferior cheese” (Clark).

While industrially-produced foods and advertising took hold of a large segment of the American population, scarcity encouraged individual industry. Government programs promoted home canning and bringing back the lost art of home kitchen cheesemaking to housewives, such as the 1934 bulletin by the U.S. Department of Agriculture “An American-type Cheese…how to make it for home use.” However, these efforts were eclipsed by the promotion of “American Cheese” through government military contracts provided to Kraft during WWII and subsequently to stabilize milk and cheese prices in the mid to late-twentieth century through government subsidy programs. At this time “American Cheese” became synonymous with “government cheese” offered free to the public and warehoused to offset prices. Sean McCloud, an associate professor of Religious Studies at UNC-Charlotte recalls: “[The Reagan era] was also a period when I ate my share of government cheese, packaged as two-pound blocks of uncut, white American, and distributed at Monon’s community center. We were not poor enough to be on welfare, but we were not so financially secure as to refuse government cheese.” Government endorsement by these means allowed for and promoted the dominance of processed cheese in food culture. Moreover, as consumer (and government) demand increased, Kraft began to dominate the cheese market buying up large producer contracts and effectively pushing small producers and factories, such as cooperatives, farmstead and artisan, out of business. In the later half of the 20th Century through producer and consumer insistence, the USDA developed industry standards and a four-category system for processed cheese, no longer allowing companies to call their processed products “Cheese” and enforcing labeling restrictions. Processed cheese is still promoted by the USDA and reinforced through government programs such as WIC (which only allows for the purchase of processed cheese) as a nutritious alternative to unprocessed varieties.

Since the close of the Reagan-era, the U.S. has seen a resurgence in farmstead and artisan cheesemakers. While American Cheese remains a recognizable comfort food, consumer taste has begun to shift away from standardized and stable industrial cheeses. Consumers also express growing concerns over the additives in processed cheese. Several do-it-yourself guides teach home cooks how to make their own processed cheese so you will “know exactly what went into it” (Ruperti). This is occurring at the same time the Slow Food and Local and Region Food movements have profoundly encouraged interest in small cheese producers across the nation.

The American Cheese Society promotes the cheesemaking industry on a variety of levels from the consumer to the cheesemaker to the retailer. Moreover, ACS promotes continued development of American cheeses from old world traditions to newer ones through education and yearly awards at its annual conference and American cheese competition. The Cheese Traveler stands with ACS in promoting a diverse image of American Cheese and supporting small cheesemakers. This month we will celebrate the great taste and craftsmanship of American cheese. Watch for our meet the cheesemaker demos and promotions that feature our great American cheese selection.

from “The Stellar American-Made Cheese Plate,” J.J. Goode, May 2010, Details.com

Sources:

“Brief History of Cheese.” National Historic Cheesemaking Center. Monroe, WI. 2009

Chapman, Sasha. “Manufacturing Taste: The (un)natural history of Kraft Dinner—a dish that has shaped not only what we eat, but also who we are.” The Walrus. Sept 2012

Clark, David. “A Brief History of “American Cheese,” from Colonial Cheddar to Kraft Singles” Mental_Floss. Jan. 7, 2009

Durand Jr., Loyal. “The Migration of Cheese Manufacture in the United States.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 42.4 (Dec 1952): 263-282.

McCloud, Sean. “Indiana: A Hoosier Remembers Eating Government Cheese.” Religion and Politics: The States Project. Washington University, St. Louis. August 22, 2012.

Ruperti, Yvonne. “How to Make American Cheese.” America’s Taste Kitchen Feed: Do-It-Yourself. Sept. 2011.

Urban, Shilo. “American Cheese: Neither American Nor Cheese.” Organic Authority. 2010.

Ustunol, Zey. “ Processed Cheese: What Is That Stuff Anyway?” Michigan Dairy Review. 14.2 (April 2009).

 Walter, H. E.. An American-type cheese : how to make it for home use.. Washington, D.C.. UNT Digital Library. 

Cheesemongers, not Cheesemakers

Around town when we get asked what we do, we say with enthusiasm, “We’re cheesemongers!” Eric has been a cheesemonger and cheeselover for 14 years and founded the cheese department at Honest Weight Food Coop in 1999. But frequently the follow-up question is “How do you like making cheese?” or “Where do you make your cheese?” Sometimes, we are confused with local cheesemakers: “So you’re the ones who make the goat cheese,” referring to R&G Cheesemakers from Cohoes, NY. Our most recent favorite came from a brief conversation at a From Scratch Club food swap. Alifair, the wife of the cheesemonger, was dubbed the “Mistress of Cheese” by one community member and another responded, “So you make the cheese and he sells it!” A classic case of mistaken identity, we have ascertained some basis for the confusion.

As the economy turned from small retail shops to large supermarkets and industrial-made products, terms like cheesemonger, fishmonger, and butcher (or its earlier form fleshmonger) fell out of use. “Monger” derives from the Latin mango- and Germanic suffix –er to mean a merchant, dealer, or trader of a commodity. Cheesemonger, by extension, means one who deals or trades in cheese. In the U.S., cheesemongering is on the rise. Large supermarkets are reimaging themselves as shops within stores and calling for cheesemongers to manage their cheese departments, and individual retail cut-to-order cheese shops are popping up in cities large and small. A staggering 1,600 domestic U.S. and Canadian cheeses were entered into the American Cheese Society’s annual competition in 2011, the largest number to date. With so many amazing fine cheeses produced in the States and abroad, a consumer needs a cheesemonger to help steer the palate toward individual interest. To meet the growing industry, demand, and to standardize practices, this year The American Cheese Society inaugurated a Certified Cheese Professional Exam for both practicing and aspiring cheesemongers.

The recorded use of the term monger dates back to the 16th century, when its meaning synonymously referred to “a person engaged in a petty or disreputable trade or traffic.”[1] This is the meaning Shakespeare’s Hamlet uses in his famous line to Polonius, adviser to the false king. In the second act, Polonius asks, “Do you know me, my lord?” and Hamlet replies, “Excellent well; you are a fishmonger.” They go on for a while about honesty and the state of the world, until Hamlet underhandedly castigates Polonius for peddling his daughter Ophelia. Polonius, ill understanding Hamlet’s satire and wit to play off the multiple meanings of words, thinks Hamlet clearly mad…or madly in love. He says in an aside, “How say you by that? Still harping on my daughter. Yet he knew me not at first; he said I was a fishmonger. He is far gone, far gone.”[2] Polonius only understands the one use and not the other, and the audience sees him as a doddering fool for his omission. Laughing at a clownish old man is great for drama, but not for polite society, of course. In today’s society, the derogatory tone of the slang meaning may persist in our thinking about the word monger and could explain our aversion to its use.

For better or for worse in the cheese business, words can contain multiple meanings. Unlike the English, the French fromager is used interchangeably for both cheesemonger and cheesemaker.[3]  What confusion this may naturally engender! To top it off, an affineur buys cheese, ages cheese, and resells the wheels at their aged perfection, holding many different types of cheeses in his cellar at any given time – is he a cheesemaker or a cheesemonger or both? At a small producers market, a cheesemaker might purchase space at a booth to become both a monger and a maker. In the city, larger cheese shops can store a wide variety of wheels and types of cheeses in their own caves or aging facilities. The American Cheese Society in its blog tagline breaks down the concepts into the following categories: Cheesemakers, Cheesemongers, Cheeselovers; and says, “All are welcome here as we celebrate all things cheese!” Not only does ACS note the difference between mongers and makers, but also includes the cheese enthusiast, the aficionado, or the curd nerd. While The Cheese Traveler falls into the cheesemonger category, we are beholden to the relationship we share with local cheesemakers, such as R&G, who make our business possible. Conversely, cheesemakers appreciate cheesemongers because their shops can reach a wider audience of cheese lovers for their product. All in all makers, mongers, and lovers form a trio around cheese and its importance to culture.

Cheese etymology portrays a unique way of seeing the difference between cultures – no pun intended. The word for “cheese” throughout the modern European languages can differ slightly as well as to a great extent independent of regional proximity. The words fromage (French), formage (Medieval French), and formaggio (Italian) derive “from the Latin word for the basket or wooden box in which compressed curds were molded to make cheese, forma, which itself came from the earlier Greek term phormos (This is also where the English word “form” comes from). For their part, the English word cheese, the Spanish word queso and the German word Kaese all come from the Latin word caseus, the foodstuff itself.”[4] Ultimately, a cheesemonger or maker focuses on the “cheese” while a fromager focuses on the “form.” A food so simple in its ingredients – milk curd and rennet, a coagulating agent that separates the curd from the whey –  develops into a vast number of different types of cheeses. Some cultures have grown to see the final product, the cheese itself, of the utmost importance while others see the form that initiates the cheese as the item of note.

In the States, and more locally in Albany, NY, we have oodles of local farmstead and fine artisan, specialty cheeses to choose from at The Cheese Traveler. The storefront is coming soon to 540 Delaware Avenue in the heart of Albany right off I90 and 787. Look for us in the coming weeks at the June 2 opening of the 2012 Summer Delmar Farmer’s Market at the Bethlehem Central Middle School in Delmar, NY.

Planing a morsel of cheese. Perfect for tasting.


[1] Oxford English Dictionary

[2] Act II, scene ii, lines 177-190. London: Oxford University Press, 1914. New York: Bartleby.Com, 2000. http://www.bartleby.com/46/2/22.html

[3] Oxford French Dictionary

[4] Etymologically Speaking http://www.westegg.com/etymology/