What’s ahead for America’s cheese counters? As 2014 draws to a close, I asked some leading cheese merchants and mavens to share their insights. I hoped someone would say that American sheep’s milk cheeses were trending, but no one did. So that’s my wish for 2015, if not my prediction.
Peter Lovis, The Cheese Shop, Concord, MA: I think the greatest trend is the growing interest among young people in becoming cheesemongers. Until four or five years ago, being a cheesemonger was something that one just fell into. It was not a premeditated career path. Now I see many young people in their early to late twenties seeking to become an expert in the field.
Jon Fancey, Bi-Rite Market, San Francisco: Customers are seeking out bolder flavors, especially in aged cow’s milk cheeses. Gruyere 1655, L’Amuse Signature, Quicke’s 2 Year Vintage Cheddar and Marcel Petit Symphonie Comté were all big movers. Despite all the changes in the food world, Parmigiano Reggiano was still our top-selling cheese this year.
Beth Lewand, Eastern District, Brooklyn, NY: We’re seeing more cheesemakers and affineurs experiment with washed-rind cheeses. Of course this is an old technique, but it's becoming more collaborative. One of my favorite new cheeses is Alemar's Good Thunder (MN) washed with Surly Brewing’s Bender, an oatmeal brown ale. Another favorite is Vulto Creamery's Miranda, fragrant and yeasty, washed in absinthe from Delaware Phoenix Distillery, located near Vulto in Walton, NY. Consider Bardwell Farm (VT) makes Slyboro, a tangy goat's milk cheese washed in hard cider from Slyboro Cider House, a nearby producer. And this fall, Parish Hill Creamery (VT) and Crown Finish Caves made a grand event out of their experiments with washing Humble Herdsman cheese in a variety of different beers from around New York City. We’re currently enjoying Humble Herdsman washed in Transmitter Brewing’s F4 farmhouse ale.
Marcella Wright, CCP, Marcella, the Cheesemonger, Vancouver, WA: Cheese is perishable and demands care, sometimes waiting weeks for a customer to take it home. How does a lower-volume store offer selection while keeping waste manageable? I’m seeing more retail stores include cheese that is cut and wrapped in-house alongside cheese cut and wrapped by the manufacturer or distributor (usually in Cryovac). The high-volume and long-lived cheeses are cut on site. Then they’re mixed with pre-wrapped selections for more variety. Purists will disagree, but I think this is a practical solution to satisfying the customer and making money in retail.
James Ayers, Sunshine Foods, St. Helena, CA: I’m loving several soft-ripened American cheeses now, like Alemar Bent River, Nicasio Valley Foggy Morning, and Von Trapp Mt. Alice. When they’re ripe, these are just as good as their French counterparts like Coulommiers and Brie de Nangis (raw-milk versions aside). Domestic buffalo-milk cheeses are up and coming. We’re doing well with Andante Dairy Partita (100 percent buffalo) and Bel Canto (a buffalo/goat blend). Can cheese get any better than these? Accoutrements for the cheese board are also selling well, like fried fava beans (great with cheese and cocktails); acacia honey; and Mitica’s Apricot Almond Cake and Date Coconut Cake from Spain. I serve these at events and people go nuts.
Karin Lawler, The Truffle Cheese Shop, Denver: Our hands-on burrata- and mozzarella-making classes have been very successful. And we have been delivering more cheese to restaurants as restaurant cheese plates become more popular. Finally, many of our customers are as concerned as we are about FDA regulations on raw-milk cheeses, especially Morbier and Roquefort.
Janet Fletcher, Planet Cheese, Napa, CA: To everybody on Planet Cheese, thank you for your readership and best wishes for a happy and healthy 2015.