Read the original interview at SFExaminer.com.
by Rana Freedman
Gordon Edgar is the cheese buyer for San Francisco’s famous Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, a store that is well-known by Bay Area food-lovers for having an amazingly well-stocked and diverse cheese selection. When I found out that Gordon had just published a book, Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge, I had to ask him about combining cheese and travel.
What countries produce your favorite cheeses?
Well, right now the USA…and I’m not a super patriotic person. I just think there is a whole lot of energy, effort and excitement around US-made cheeses right now. The jump in quality and quantity (of small producers) has been incredible in the last ten years. The Swiss are also producing a lot of amazing new cheeses because of a change in the way their cheese subsidy works. But if I were answering this question for classic cheese, I’d go with the boring conventional answer: France and Italy.
Which country do you think is most underrated for its cheese?
Canada (well Québec, at least), Portugal, and the United States.
Québécois cheesemakers are producing amazing products, many of which are unavailable here. If you miss French cheese, save some dollars and fly to Montréal instead of Paris!
The Portuguese might not have a lot of cheese exported to the US, but the Serra da Estrela is one of the world’s best, yet it’s almost never mentioned. Raw sheep milk, milk thistle rennet, it’s an oozy cheese that can only be made in the Iberian Peninsula: rich, sour, pungent and complex!
As for the US, well, I just got back from being a judge at the American Cheese Society Competition. There were 1438 entries this year!
What are some of the best US cheeses? Where are they being produced and can you go visit there?
Yeah, go ahead and ask the question that makes cheesemakers mad at me! I always get more response from the people I leave out then from the people I mention.
Let’s start with Vermont. One of the most interesting cheese projects in the country is being run at Jasper Hill Farm in the Northeast Kingdom. Not only do they make the Winnimere, one of my favorite all-time cheese, they also built an aging room and are aging cheese for other farmers so that other small dairy folks can survive in this economic climate.
In Wisconsin, I really must mention Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company. They are the only cheesemaker to win the American Cheese Society Best of Show more than once and they won it for the third time this year. It’s an alpine style cheese, similar to a well-aged Gruyere in flavor, but with its own special kick.
Being a Californian, I must mention Harley Farms. They are an award-winning producer of goat cheese and their beautiful farm in Pescadero is an easy place to visit if you are on Highway 1. They have been so successful running tours and selling cheese off their farm that they have dropped their outside distribution. We can carry it at our co-op because we’re kind of grandfathered in, but it is one of my favorite farms to visit. (And be sure to get an olallieberry pie at Duarte’s Tavern while you are in town!)
Most farms and dairies are busy places not open to the public, but there is a Vermont Cheese Trail which lists a number of cheese places you can visit. Washington, California and Wisconsin also have maps listing where cheesemakers are and which are open to the public.
Where in the US would you be most surprised by great artisanal cheese?
Great cheese is popping up everywhere. A personal favorite is Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, Georgia. They are a pasture-based dairy – something fairly unusual in the US – and they make one of the best soft-ripened cheeses in the country.
Can you explain the concept of terroir and how it relates to cheese?
‘Terroir’ basically means that a food product contains a sense of the place where it was made; that – in the case of cheese – the grasses that the mammals are eating (and the breed of mammals themselves) will make an individual cheese tastes wholly unique, that it would be unable to be copied anywhere else in the world. This is part of the concept behind name controls which regulate that (for example) Champagne or Gruyere de Comté can only be labeled as such if made in certain regions under certain conditions.
However, ‘terroir’ can also be a marketing scam or the pretentious daydream of a lazy food writer. If the term is used for a cheese where the animals don’t graze, where the company buys milk from the non-immediate area, or the company uses frozen curd from another country, there’s no terroir there. It might be a good cheese, but the only terroir is in someone’s imagination.
What travel tips do you have for cheese lovers?
Eat local! Or rather, eat what the locals eat. That’s the way to get to know a place.
If you could visit any cheese maker in the world, who would it be and why?
Unbelievably (to me) I have not visited the zona tipica in Italy and seen Parmigiano Reggiano being made. It is a pilgrimage I must make before I die!
Gordon Edgar loves cheese and worker-owned co-ops, and has been combining both of these infatuations as a cheesemonger at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco for over 16 years. Edgar has been a judge at cheese competitions, a board member for the California Artisan Cheese Guild, and has had a blog since 2002, which can be found at www.gordonzola.net. Surrounded by his vast and decaying collection of zines and obscure punk 7-inches, he lives in San Francisco with his girlfriend and their white miniature schnauzer. His cheese memoir, Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge, was published in early 2010.
Read the original article on Lonely Planet.
Gordon Edgar: Rainbow Grocery Cheesemonger, life on the wedge
By Raymond Hook
August 3, 20101
Gordon Edgar loves cheese and worker-owned co-ops, and has been combining both of these infatuations as a cheesemonger at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco for over 16 years. Edgar has been a judge at cheese competitions, a board member for the California Artisan Cheese Guild, and has had a blog since 2002, which can be found at www.gordonzola.net. Surrounded by his vast and decaying collection of zines and obscure punk 7-inches, he lives in San Francisco with his girlfriend and their white miniature schnauzer. His political cheese memoir, Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge was published in early 2010.
Raymond Hook: How long have you been at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative and how did you get the job? Describe a little about Rainbow and your position there.
Gordon Edgar: I started working at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in 1994 and became the cheese buyer within about 6 months. I actually had no background in food before I got hired, my interest in working at Rainbow mostly had to do with wanting to be part of the living experiment in workplace democracy that is Rainbow. Luckily, the mid-‘90s were a less competitive time for cheese selling and I was able to learn while on the job.
Rainbow Grocery Cooperative is a supermarket-sized natural foods store that is owned and run by the people who work there (Read the history of Rainbow Grocery). We’re San Francisco’s largest independent natural food store even though – because of the beliefs of our founders – we don’t carry meat or fish. Luckily, animal rennet got an early exemption so our cheese section can be pretty complete. One of the best things about being worker-owned is that people stick around, so our cheese department is very experienced. Including me, our five most experienced workers have been here a total of about 70 years! My job is to taste and select cheese for our store to carry, make signs describing those cheeses, help educate co-workers about cheese, and receive and examine the cheese as it gets delivered on the days I work. I also work behind the counter cutting, wrapping, pricing, and talking to customers part of the week.
RH: What is your definition of a Cheesemonger? When did you realize this was your calling?
Gordon Edgar: On the most basic level, a cheesemonger is someone who buys and sells cheese. There is no certification (as yet) but there should be some kind of experience and expertise inherent in the title as well. In my book, I talk about a few other qualifications like kicking a sales rep out of the store, being injured on the job, and killing a rat in the walk-in, but I would concede that not everyone views those things as requirements.
gruyere cheeseI realized it was my calling when I first tasted a well-aged Gruyère. All of a sudden, I had a glimpse into not only the complexity of flavor, but I was burning with questions about the intricacy of the cheese aging process… why was this cheese so much better than any I had tasted before? What went into making it that way? When is a cheese aged with skill and when is it just old? Why is Swiss Gruyère different than Gruyère de Comte? I know many of these answers now, but the beauty of cheese is that there’s always more to know.
RH: What inspired you to write a book, who is the book for — I mean what type of person buys a Cheesemonger book?
Gordon Edgar: The idea of the book started when – in the early 2000s – I had a little blog that was pretty general in nature. I would write about whatever I was thinking that day, but I noticed that when I wrote about cheese I would get tons of responses. There was a lot less cheese on the internet back then so people – strangers – started finding my blog and asking for advice.
I started envisioning a longer work – which eventually became Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge because I wanted to be able to have a longer conversation with folks than is possible in a retail setting or in the comments section on the internet. I made it part food politics, part cheese because those are my interests and I included some memoir-y bits that pertain to my story of how I got into cheese because I wanted to keep it demystified and accessible.
Probably the most gratifying response I get is from other cheese workers – those make me cry! — but as far as I can tell, lots of different types of people are buying it. I’ve even heard from vegans who liked it!
RH: Your cheese shop sells more California cheese than any other cheese shop in the world, why is this important? Did you intend for this to happen, or did it just work out that way?
Gordon Edgar: Well, supporting the local agricultural communities is certainly important to me and our whole cooperative. But I’m also kind of lucky to have grown up and live in a place where there is such a variety of high quality cheese produced. I have criticisms of locavorism, but having a big, popular local section of cheese is — without a doubt — crucial to our community.
Many years ago – before American cheeses were as popular as they are now – our department made a decision to always promote at least an equal number of American cheeses and European ones. Considering there is a lot more promotional money available for Euro cheeses, this took extra work but all of us knew that the future of cheese is to make it more local and not just rely on the traditional cheeses. That idea worked really well in parallel with the rise of farmers markets to help let the average cheese eater (or would-be cheese eater) know that something new and different was going on, that you could buy an American cheese that wasn’t just cheddar or a pale copy of a traditional European cheese.
RH: What was the best/easiest part of writing your book, and the toughest?
Gordon Edgar: The easiest parts of the book to write were the cheese selling anecdotes that I had been amusing friends with for years anyway. The hardest was the dairy science parts. I triple checked most of the details because I was terrified of getting it wrong and I figured my editors wouldn’t have the science background to catch any mistakes I made. My book isn’t heavy on the dairy science, but it’s hard to tell the story of cheese without a little bit.
By the way, for a great book about the science of cheese, check out American Farmstead Cheeses by Professor Paul Kindsedt. I am indebted to that work.
Rogue Caveman BlueRH: Do you prefer wine and cheese or beer and cheese? What are some of your favorite pairings?
Gordon Edgar: I prefer beer and cheese, I really do. But hey, you are the beer/cheese pairing expert! I’m sure your advice is better than mine. I do have a couple of everyday faves though. Lagunitas Farmhouse Saison Ale and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar: spicy, earthy Belgian-style brew with a sweet, sharp earthy cheddar. Hard to stop consuming either once you start. Black Butte Porter and Rogue Caveman Blue: Hearty cheese and hearty beer perfect for cold San Francisco summers. Oh, I think I have to go to the bar now.
RH: Are you planning on another book?
Gordon Edgar: Yes, but I can’t talk about it yet. Shhhhhhhh.
RH: Where is the future of cheese in San Francisco, California and the USA heading?
Gordon Edgar: More American originals for sure. I think we have just scratched the surface of cheesemaking potential. There are, for example, phenomenal cheeses from Oregon and Washington that almost no one outside the region has even tried. People will be blown away when they find out. Like in punk rock of the ‘80s, there is a lot of mutual aid and pressure to improve in strong regional-based cheese communities. I’m sure there are non-West Coast cheese scenes that I am totally ignorant of that right now that I will be singing the praises of down the line.
RH: What is the best cheesy thing to do in San Francisco?
Gordon Edgar: Well, besides hitting the sample table at our store, I’d have to say that getting a few cheeses and heading to Zeitgeist to drink a few pitchers of beer (different beers of course, for pairing experimentation) on a workday afternoon is my favorite cheese thing ever.
RH: This interview is about your book. Where is it available online?
Buy Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge on Amazon.com
Read the whole article here.
KBOO Community Radio
Turophiles (Cheese Lovers) Special
Submitted by Laura McCandlish
Wednesday, 05/19/2010 at 5:33pm
This Wednesday it's Cheese Maven Day on the KBOO Food Show. Guests include Tami Parr of the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project, Chrissie Zaerpoor of Kookoolan Farms in Yamhill and Sarah Marcus, a start-up goat cheesemaker with the Briar Rose Creamery in Dundee. And Gordon Edgar takes us inside his edgy new Cheesemonger memoir.
Listen Now. (Gordon Edgar's segment begins at 42:25.)
Putting a cheese platter together for a holiday bash? Promise you're not planning to hit up Trader Joe's for a shopping bag full of industrial specimens entombed in factory plastic. In case you've been distracted by life these past 12 months, turns out 2009 was an interesting year in cheese ― which is where Gordon Edgar comes in. Cheese buyer at Rainbow Grocery (1745 Folsom at 13th St.) since 1994, Edgar curates an exquisite selection of the mild and the pungent, the grate-worthy and the semisoft. His cheesy memoir, Cheesemonger: A Life On the Wedge, will be published in early 2010 by Chelsea Green. Behold Edgar's picks for half a dozen of the most interesting cheeses you can drop on a platter this season. ―J. Birdsall, SFoodie Editor
2009 is almost over, so the Weekly asked me to do a little cheesemonger reflection upon this past year in cheese. If you love the cheese, a few new cheeses and dairy trends have surfaced that are worth checking out:
1. The New Swiss: Because of changes in Swiss government dairy subsidies, a lot of milk that used to go to Emmenthal and Gruyère is now available for creative cheesemakers. My favorite among the New Swiss is Challerhocker, a cheese with all the amazing sweet, nutty, slightly pungent flavor of a well-aged Gruyère, but with a creamy, semisoft texture (and including those amazing aging crystals). Besides Challerhocker, a plethora of new Swiss cheeses are available in select Bay Area shops: Nidelchas, Scharfer Max, Brebis Rossinière, Selun, Försterkäse, Dallenwiller, and Heublumen, to name just a few. 2. Dunbarton Blue: Made by the Roelli Cheese Company in Shullsburg, Wis., this cheese is basically a beautifully aged farmhouse cheddar with blue veins running throughout. No blue out there compares to this, except for the accidental veining found at times in other traditionally made cheddars (like Neal's Yard Montgomery or Fiscalini Bandage Wrapped). Sharp and earthy, with a mild- to medium-strength taste of blu 3. Prairie Breeze: Half the things I do in my work-life seem to lend themselves to fart jokes so, to echo those old Smucker's ads, if we bring in a cheese that lends itself so easily to "cutting the cheese" mocking, it's gotta be good. Prairie Breeze comes from the Milton Creamery in Iowa and is made in unpretentious 40-pound blocks, the staple of American cheesemaking. Using local Amish rBGH-free milk, the flavor is like a cross between cheddar and aged Gouda: sharp and sweet like caramel.
4. The New Bay Area Sheep Cheeses: Bellwether Farms makes great sheep cheeses (and truly amazing sheep-milk yogurt) but for years they have been the only local producers. However, this year both Barinaga Ranch and Bleating Heart have come on the scene, making amazing Basque-style cheeses. Barinaga Basseri has the classic nutty, fruity, and earthy flavor of Pyrenees cheeses, while the Bleating Heart Fat Bottom Girl is sweeter and more firm (and sold out before I could even make a Freddie Mercury sign!). Hopefully, more of both these cheeses will be available in 2010, since cheese eaters love local sheep.
5. Délice de la Vallée: Longtime cheese educator and caterer Sheana Davis (The Epicurean Connection) has been serving this soft, spreadable cow/goat blend for years at her own events. This year she started selling it commercially and almost everyone who tried it asked, "Why didn't anyone do this before?" Tangy and rich, taking the best parts of the goat and the cow, this pairs amazingly with almost any fruit, jam, or chutney. As with many new products put out by people and not huge corporations, availability has been spotty, but next year cheesemongers throughout the Bay have been promised a lot more Délice.
Read the original article at SFWeekly.com.