Tim Gaddis loves cheese. “Its like I don’t even work. I get to do what I want to do every day.” Beyond tasting cheeses daily as they come in from distributors, he is choosing the cheeses for Floataway Café, Abattoir and Bacchanalia’s cheese cart. He reveals to us the art of cheesemongering.
Bacchanalia is the only restaurant of Quatrano’s with a cheese cart that comes to the table. What makes those cheeses different?
Out of the 130 cheeses we carry at Star Provisions, I narrow it down to the 15 great examples of what we serve in the store. I want the chefs at all of Quatrano’s restaurants to have the cheeses that they want to serve.
With so many cheeses, how do you know when each is ready to eat?
Cheesemongers know exactly when cheese is ripe and ready to eat. It is hard to just look in a cheese case and know what is good, so I am constantly tasting and touching cheeses. It really takes time. I learn the certain smells that a cheese has. I know that one cheese will have a milky, mushroomy, straw-like pungency, while bolder cheeses smell meaty. A soft cheese will feel like a medium-rare steak. Under-ripe soft cheese will be firmer and overripe cheese will feel gooey.
It sounds like you spend a lot of time with cheese. How often are you actually eating cheese?
I joke and say that it is all just spoiled milk. Cheese is just a method of preservation. Its not like I’m eating mounds of cheese daily, but I taste a little here and there every day.
So how long did it take you to become an expert?
I’ll let you know when I get there. I’m constantly learning. The cheesemongering community is small in the US so we all know each other and we can call each other up to ask questions. We even have a cheesemonger Facebook page.
Biggest Local Distributors: Sweet Grass Dairy, Harmony Farms
Most Popular European Distributors: France, Italy, Switzerland, England, Spain
You tell me that cheeses have seasons.
Yes, especially when you get into smaller distributors that have 20-50 cows. I always use the analogy of mixing a big box of 200 crayons together- you get this grayish color. But if you take 3 or 4 very nice colors and mix them together you get another very nice color. So taking the milk from just 40 cows that are eating in your pasture and the straw you harvest, those flavors will really come through in the cheese.
You’d never realize how much is involved with making cheese.
One reason that Stilton is so popular during the holidays is because the cheese was made in the springtime. The cows had just started to eat fresh spring grass, so after six months of aging those flavors are concentrated and really come through.
In the spring what can people expect for cheeses?
In the springtime you get a lot of fresh cheeses because the goats and sheep are bred in the fall and have babies in the spring. The first milk of the season is always so bright and vibrant, and you taste the floral flavors.
When picking out a cheese for someone, how do you decide what to serve them?
I would tell a cheese aficionado the same thing I would tell a novice- what’s good cheese is good cheese. At Star Provisions I let customers taste whatever they want so that you are satisfied when you go home.
Gaddis created this cheeseboard that is perfect for New Year’s Eve entertaining. The keys to a good board is contrast with both soft and hard cheeses. These cheeses go great with the bubbles of champagne.