10 Cheese Questions for Culture Editor Elaine Khosrova
Elaine Khosrova has been working with and around food her entire career, as a culinary student, a recipe developer, a writer, and an editor.
As founding editor-in-chief of culture, her food knowledge came in handy, to say the least, as she delved into the world of cheese. Recent media articles commenting on how the career of food writing has changed over the past decade inspired us to interview Elaine (own editorial veteran!) on the past, present, and future of food writing, particularly as it relates to culture. Plus (even though we work with her everyday) we wanted more specifics on this mysterious cheese magazine editor – like what’s in her fridge right now? Alexandra Howard sat down with her to ask some questions:
What initially got you interested and/or inspired to seek a career as a food writer?
I have a degree in Food & Nutrition and also attended the CIA in the Pastry Arts program, but it wasn’t until I worked on staff as an entry-level editor at Hearst magazines (responsible for recipe development and styling) that I was inspired to try my hand at food writing. I was fortunate to work with a senior editor there who believed my narrative instincts were good even though my early writing was terribly over-wrought. She taught me a lot about shaping the rhythm of a paragraph, losing redundancies, and not letting too much “cleverness” get in the way of clarity.
Can you describe your first writing/editorial job?
My first editorial job, referred to above, was at Country Living magazine. My first byline was for a column in the back of the book called “Veggie Table,” which had an intro text about a seasonal veg or theme and then corresponding recipes. I was part of a staff of four full-time staffers in the Food Editorial dept that produced about 15 to 20 pages of editorial each month. Although we did everything in-house (this was the early- and mid-90’s, before the Internet), from subject research and recipe development to food styling for photo shoots, the pace was very civilized compared to food publishing today with its many hungry platforms (radio, TV, websites, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc…) and lean staffs.
What were your goals for the magazine when you accepted the job at culture?
My goals were (and still are) essentially three-fold:
To expose readers to the behind-the-scenes people, places, and skills which comprise the global “culture” of the cheese world.
To help readers navigate and understand the ever-growing selection of specialty cheeses in the marketplace, thereby making choices less intimidating.
To encourage readers—American ones in particular—to adopt the idea of a cheese plate or a cheese course at home, not just in fine restaurants. Europeans have appreciated this wonderful, simple mealtime ritual for many generations; Americans still tend to think of cheese as an ingredient in dishes, playing a supporting role rather than being the main attraction.
Although I’m very hands-on in the editorial department with regard to achieving these goals, art direction is as important, if not more so. (What’s that old and very-true cliché?…One picture is worth a thousand...)
What advice would you give to people who want to write an article for culture or a magazine like it?
Study the magazine you want to write for. Get several issues and pore over them to better understand the architecture of the magazine—what’s up front, what’s in the well, what’s back-o-the-book—and the “voice” of the publication. (Assuming there is one unifying voice; at culture I deliberately set out to include many voices in every issue so the reader feels more in touch with a community than an institution.) Customize your pitch to the needs/sensibility of the editor but keep it short and to the point. Always include an honest writing sample—not one that’s been polished by a previous editor.
What has been your favorite part of your career thus far?
Traveling to farms and creameries to meet cheesemakers and better understand this miraculous process whereby a vat of milk can become hundreds of different kinds of cheese. Although I now understand the science of it as well as any self-respecting cheese nerd, cheesemaking still has a Rumpelstiltskin-like magic for me. I always get excited when I’m in the midst of it.
What is the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has happened to you as the editor of Culture?
Overlooking the missing page number for a quote on the cover of one of our issues was probably the most kick-myself moments as editor. Funniest thing (in recent memory) was video-taping my 17-year-old daughter and her five friends (all cheese ingénues) as they made their way through an unguided sampling of various serious cheeses. Their comments and reactions were hilarious—and insightful.
What are your feelings on stinky cheese?
I love the stuff, especially the more runny types of washed-rinds (a.k.a. stinky cheese). My threshold for nasal pungency is now quite high—I actually enjoy breathing in the funk—but I try to remember, as a cheese ambassador, that it can be off-putting for a lot of cheese novitiates. They need to be introduced gradually to the experience of Brevibacterium linens.
If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
I know I should probably choose a legend like Shakespeare or a heart-throb like George Clooney, but honestly I’d love to meet my grandmother on my father’s side. She had nine children and died very young—no one has ever been able to explain how. Her death and life are shrouded in mystery. I’d love to meet any of my ancestors, but especially her.
If I were to look in your refrigerator right now, what would I find?
Too much stuff. My refrigerator is always chock-full because I love to cook and bake and try new foods. The weirdest thing in my fridge right now is a jar of hibiscus flowers in syrup (I used them to flavor and decorate a cake). The current cheese star in my refrigerator is Seven Sisters, a golden raw Jersey cow's milk from Pennsylvania's Doe Run Dairy. It has the flavor endurance and complexity of a world-class alpine cheese, with the fudgy sweetness of an aged gouda.
Is there another underrepresented food item that you think deserves it own magazine?
After reading through Sandor Katz’s new tome, The Art of Fermentation, I’m convinced that the subject of fermented foods is a fascinating and underappreciated aspect of the edible world. Covering the science and practice of fermentation could definitely fill many issues of a magazine. (Just don’t call it “culture.”)