How I became a cheese pig
Since this is my first contribution to this blog please let me introduce myself: I am a Swiss food journalist turned cheese importer & wholesaler. My company, Quality Cheese, was born out of lack. When I moved to Florida fifteen years ago I immediately started to miss all the fabulous cheeses I had loved, been exposed to and eaten daily back home.
During a phone call with my friend, Affineur Rolf Beeler, I mentioned that I would have to start importing his products. Somehow this little joke stuck in my head. A few months later I ordered thirty pounds each of Rolf’s Gruyere, Sbrinz and Emmentaler. I set out for a trip that led me to five cities and chefs like Tom Keller, Daniel Boulud, Gray Kuntz and Charlie Trotter. Upon my return I found the first order on my fax machine. From a certain Mr. Max McCalman for (at the time) Picholine Restaurant.
This was the beginning of my career as a cheese pig. At least I was thinking so until I started contemplating about this article. I have a different perspective now.
I have been sourcing cheese – like some pigs do truffles - since I was a child. In my parent’s way of sharing life and tasks my father always has been and still to this day is in charge of the cheese (and only the cheese). So he leaves the house rather early every Saturday in the pursuit of the hunks and wedges that will determine the upcoming week.
From when I was a little girl until I left my parents house, at age 18, he would have me in tow for these Saturday trips. We loved the weekly outings and usually started at a coffee shop where he ordered Espresso for himself and Café au Lait (that got darker over the course of the years) for me. And from there on it only went up the hills. Literally.
We lived in the western part of Switzerland, where everyone spoke German at least as well as French, or vice versa. There were no big cities but a few small towns and three beautiful lakes: Neuenburg/Neuchatel, Murten/Morat and Biel/Bienne. The region was known as Lakeland and geographically represented the south-eastern foot of the Jura hills connecting Switzerland and France. Lush and green.
We usually visited three or four dairies in the area above these lakes each week. Over time there were repeat ones on the list of course. But as often as possible we would try out a new place or give one we had abandoned another shot. We never left a store without buying at least one kind of cheese (and never less than two pounds of it!). Our game/challenge was to find and honor the best producers and vendors. And find we did, indeed!
Cheeses of any texture, aroma and flavor. From very young to very aged, from shy to sharp, gentle to gigantic, milky to moldy. We saw huge round eyes filled with what were called tears of joy, tiny needle sized holes and everything in between. We found runny and creamy and gooey rounds. We smelled milk, warmth and caramel. Cheese. We felt like pigs in the dirt. Or like truffle pigs digging out a whole bunch of the precious tuber at once.
Although by now I am receiving huge boat loads of cheeses and have access to whole wheels I still can not resist a dairy I have never been to before. And I still buy abundantly rather than reasonably. Always sniffing in the search of great cheese. Delightfully piggin’ out. Life is good when you never know what cheese it brings you next!