Cheeseman Jack

August 19, 2012 0 Comments

Cheese Buying Tips

There is no crime in not liking some allegedly famous cheese. – Cheeseman Jack

I met Jack at our local Farmers Market where he has one of his two popular cheese stands. His other cheese shop is in Philadelphia at the famous Reading Terminal Market. Jack is a true cheesemonger but doesn’t like titles or labels so I now just call him Cheeseman Jack.

Culinary Schools and Baking Schools
Culinary Schools and Baking Schools

One of my culinary goals is to learn more about cheese, how to serve it and what to serve it with it. There are so many cheeses from around the world with different styles that I’m hoping Jack will turn me on to some cheeses I’m not familiar with and offer me some of his extensive knowledge about them.

As knowledgeable as Jack is, he is just as colorful. He can be testy at times and often outright angry as you will see when you read his interview. He also has an affinity for foul language and I will do my best to edit his comments to protect the young and innocent. But don’t let those qualities get in the way of his incredible devotion to cheese and his generosity to share his knowledge with us.

Here’s my interview with Cheeseman Jack:

How long have you been marketing cheese and what did you do before this career? 
What’s marketing? I’ve never looked at how I make a living as “a career”. Before “this” I was in the 9th grade. 1967????

How did you get started in this business?

I needed to earn money. My first job at a grocery store that had an innovative owner who grew his business aggressively. I grew with it.

When did you become seriously interested in cheese? 

Early 1970’s. There was a trip I had “won” to France courtesy of a cheese manufacturer. I met Steve Jenkins there in a very interesting cab ride to the food distribution center in Rungis. Their beautiful displays of wholesale cheese impressed and inspired me to move forward and learn.

Jack, you have an encyclopedic knowledge of cheeses from around the world. Whenever I spend time with you talking about new cheeses to try, I walk away dazed by the amount of information you give me. What advice would you give my visitors if they wanted to learn more about cheese?

I talk too much. Dazed and confused were conditions I used to pay for. So your welcome.

Buy “The Cheese Primer” by the aforementioned Steve Jenkins. I guess doing research on-line might be helpful but usually there is so much bull and miss-information on some of these cheese blogs. I think if your going to put some commentary out there do your homework first. People will taste a cheese once and write prose, praise, or condemnation on their single tasting.

  • Where did the writer buy the cheese? – reputable store or some mass cutting Trader Momo something or other pay no attention to the man behind the curtain supermarket?
  • When was it cut and wrapped?
  • How was it cut and wrapped?
  • How old was the cheese?
  • What type of flavor sensations does the cheese suppose to have?

And more importantly, maybe the reviewer just does not like the cheese they have tasted. 9 out of 10 times I hear and read people say “oh the cheese was bad” because after all their taste buds are beyond reproach. If they do not like a cheese it must be bad.

I say go away and do not come back to my store. Why would I put bad cheese in my case? I may not enjoy a lot of the cheeses I sell. I trust my taste buds. There is no crime in not liking some allegedly famous cheese. Each cheese may be justified in any condition or age it may be in. Young-mild, ripe-fuller flavor, older or more aged, more interesting texture, finish, and strength. I am not worried to say I do not like some hip cheese. We like what we like.

Once I buy a great cheese from your shop, take it home, sample it with my wife but have some left over, what is the best way to store it? 

After opening your plastic wrap or vacuum sealed cheese I would suggest you “wipe” it down with a butter knife removing any whey or plastic flavor and re-wrap the cheese in a wax paper. Then store it in Tupperware or over wrap your paper with plastic wrap. Older people remember wrapping cheese in dampened cheese cloth and storing them in sheds or basements.

Lot’s of people buy their 3 to 5 favorite cheeses at their local supermarket. Why should they come to a cheese shop like yours?

Why shop with me? – I have a remarkable group of knowledgeable and interested food and cheese people that work for me. Nary a one sniffs out his/her words when speaking on wine and cheese. Just the necessary facts. Attitude is always reflective. So be courteous.

Why shop with me? – We sell a very aggressive variety of cheeses.

Why shop with me? – I need the money.

Even I don’t stray to far from my comfort zone when it comes to buying cheese and why I want you to introduce me to new styles each week and then write about them. How to you educate your customers to be adventurous when it comes to trying new cheeses and how should anyone reading this interview expand their cheese palates?

DO NOT BE AFRAID. Cheese is concentrated fermented milk. Sampling is the best way to try a cheese you may not have had. HOWEVER… there has been a slow movement recently of people coming in with the bizarre attitude that it is their right to sample my product. It, sadly, is only a privilege. So do not think your cheese shop is some kind of hip cheese tasting club where you sample 5-6 items and move on. We sample to educate and hopefully make a sale.

I keep hearing about artisanal farm cheese. What is it and how is it different than the cheeses I find in the grocery store? Are there good cheeses out there that are not artisanal? 

We carry industrial, farm, and artisanal. Mass produced, single herd, and co-operative.

Mass production is not a negative necessarily. Parmigiano Reggiano is a great example of this. Gruyere another.
Farm cheeses may be better, they may be worse, it depends on the particular cheese at the time you are buying it.

I do not sweat the “ARTISINAL” cheese movement. There has always been Artisinal cheeses and we carried them before the fancy title. It is a merely a smaller production, possible higher quality milk source, with more attentive producers and educated animal who prefers to read Dostoyevsky as opposed to People magazine. It is more important that the cheese you may purchase is delicious, reasonably affordable, and suits your needs.

 Let’s talk about buying cheese. What advice would you give someone who goes to a cheese shop interested in trying something new and different?

I am not interested in what is “NEW AND UNUSUAL.” What’s new is a bad question. New to who? The buyer or the world? How do I know what you’ve had? I sell interesting, reliable cheeses that in some cases the history dates back 4000 years. They are more than likely new to most recent cheese tasters.

What questions should they be asking?

  • How much is it? – Depends
  • May I taste it? – yeah
  • I’ve had such and such cheese, what is similar?
  • Do I want soft or hard, strong or mild cheese?
  • How much do I need? – is it a party or are you baiting a mouse trap?
  • What is that mold doing on the goat cheese?

What if the cheese smells really strong? Does that mean it’s past it’s prime?

No. it may be a washed or natural rind product that should be aromatic. “PRIME” is completely subjective for me.

Oh no! There is some mold on my cheese. Do I have to throw it out?

No. Cheese mold may be cleaned efficiently with white vinegar or salt water. Mold eventually becomes a rind in some cases, or may be a sign that the cheese is ripening. Yes molds can be scary but in or on a cheese is not as upsetting as in or on my house.

What about raw cheese? The food magazines talk about how great they are but they are nowhere to be found. What exactly is a raw cheese? Why can’t you buy them in the United States? Is there anything close to raw cheese available in this country? 

I don’t know about raw cheese. There are raw MILK cheeses and raw cheese clerks. This is a sore subject with me as my experience proves that when a customer says: ‘OH NO ……THIS WON’T DO.!!!! It was better in Paris……” and they walk away without purchasing anything. They are not cheese people. They are more likely remembering ambiance and vacation rather than objectively tasting what is currently available to them.

When having to buy a well made artisanal pasteurized product as opposed to an alleged raw milk one some fool food writer wrote about the cheese not available in the US. Next year they will taste it in Europe. And it will be better!

Why can’t you buy them in the United States?

Who said that and why or how did they make the assumption? Raw milk cheeses have been with us since cheese accidently came about. In this country a raw milk cheese may be sold, no matter it’s origin, only after 60 days, when alleged harmful bacteria die off. You probably have eaten raw milk cheese for years without knowing it. Emmenthal, Gruyeres, and certain Cheddar Cheese have always been made with raw milk.

A raw milk cheese will usually have a broader depth of flavor than a pasteurized cheese. So generally, yes, raw milk product is more flavorful, but in some cases not always accessible. However Pasteurization is not necessarily a negative. There are more than enough beautiful cheeses boasting aroma, flavor, and finish that are pasteurized. La Tur, Charolais, dolce gorgonzola,…..all great all pasteurized.

Ultra-Pasteurized products, cheese whose shelf lives are extended by using very high temperature, very quickly, two times, killing all bacteria are usually less interesting and flavorless. These cheeses are and should be much less expensive than farm cheese. They have a value when entertaining hoards of people and it is not always prudent to purchase the more expensive artisanal types. Double-crème brie will suffice for large parties and eaters.

Is cheese good for you? 

Not if your lactose intolerant.

I will be asking Cheeseman Jack many more of your questions and you will be able to find his answers on my Blog under All About Cheese. If you have questions, go to my Blog post Learning About Cheese From A Cheesemonger and post your question.

Last modified on Wed 29 October 2014 12:49 pm

Filed in: Cheese, Chef Interviews

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