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CRACKER SNATCHER

And now here is the sixth entry in a feature called “Cheese’s Hidden Gems”. These are profiles of cheeses I personally consider to be special because each of them offer a thrilling and unique experience, if you can find them! This is one of cheeses you can really only enjoy with your eyes, as it is sentient, angry, and possibly Satanic.

Upon encountering this remarkable cheese for the first time, the very first thing you notice about is that it’s always boiling, even inside the packaging. Everyone makes the same face when they see it. Everyone asks if it’s “allowed.” That depends on what they mean, because this cheese isn’t about to ask your permission for anything. And it probably could if it wanted to, because this is the only cheese with a working nervous system!!!

I have tried “Cracker Snatcher” (a nickname, by the way, as the original name is a lengthy, unpronounceable chemical formula) on a date-based cracker made with pistachios and wicker, the heartiest cracker in the world, and the cheese simply absorbed it, doubled in size, took the shape of the cracker, and finally calcified into stone. I’ve had it on a piece of whole wheat mini-toast, three-day-old rye, a tiny little frisby I caught at a day parade, a pog, two pogs (“sandman style”), a bona fide saltine (!), and each were snatched without a fight.

Head cheesemaker Carl Cragg reportedly stumbled upon this “cheese” accidentally when he was trying to formulate an immortality serum out of cat milk. While Cragg wouldn’t answer any of my questions directly, he did provide me with a link to the cheese’s personal blog. Turns out, you’ve never hated anything as much as this cheese hates crackers, and it all started when the cheese was very young and had a cracker nanny with a penchant for spanking. The blog is a non-linear mess, jumping from first to third person every other paragraph, but it is sprinkled throughout with bawdy illustrations of scantily-clad demons, skeletons in mid-coitus, and penis birds——hot stuff!

Another neat thing about this cheese is that it will melt like hot acid through your hand, but it’s fine, it doesn’t even hurt! But what does it taste like, you might ask? The closest flavor is onions. You know how a good Gruyere tastes like sauteed onions? Cracker Snatcher here tastes like burnt onion soup. Don’t you like onion soup? That’s fine, this cheese isn’t really edible anyway.

LEVI’S 501 CHEESE

Here is the fifth entry in a feature called “Cheese’s Hidden Gems”. These are profiles of cheeses I personally consider to be special because each of them offer a thrilling and unique experience, if you can find them! Though I wouldn’t give the cheese itself high marks for flavor, it was the kind of cheese you could just hang with, for hours, no big deal.

Let’s say you’re out on a date with someone special, or maybe no one special, or you’re just dining out alone on a Friday night because you’re not special. You’re pecking at the dish you ordered because you hate it; you knew you were going to hate it because it has mushrooms, but you’ve been pushing yourself to eat mushrooms lately and honestly that has to manifest into eating mushrooms at some point, like actually eating them in real life and not just “wanting to like them” in the abstract so that you seem less difficult of a person in case you’re ever in a social situation that matters. But the problem is you really hate mushrooms and eating them has always caused you nothing but nausea and grief and regret. That’s when you look over to see the couple at the next table over gorging themselves on something so unique, so peculiar, so American.

This act they’re engaged in seems at once completely casual and wholly unnatural. You want——no, you need——whatever they’re having this instant, so you go to motion for the waiter, who is actually right behind you, and you accidentally smack him in the dick. After an awkward double-apology, you ask for whatever the couple at that next table over is eating and the waiter says, “sorry, that was the last piece.” Whether or not he’s telling you the truth is irrelevant, because you hit him in the dick, and so you gotta just let it go. Those are the rules.

What that couple was eating is called “501 Cheese©,” from Levi Strauss & Company. According to a cursory Google search just now, it’s the only cheese ever commissioned by a denim jean company. Yes, even though they usually only make jeans and and shorts and jean jackets (and jean shorts [jorts]), Levi collaborated with cheese producers from all over the nation to put out this novelty wheel in an attempt to shake up both the jean and cheese industry.

From the website:

It’s an aged cheddar wrapped in a clean, crisp blue denim rind. Informal but prepared—you could take it with you wherever jeans are welcome: the doctor’s office, an impromptu street brawl, or Sunday mass.

www.levistrauss.com

The story of how this cheese came about changes depending on who tells is, so here are the facts: One day, the CEO of Levi’s was relaxing in his stately cushioned chair with his feet up on a big oak desk, puffing a cigar full of marijuana. He called his secretary into his office and said, “Get this down for me, will ya? Blue jeans, blue cheese. Blue jean cheese. Gosh, there’s gotta to be something there, right?” His secretary just shrugged and said, “I have no idea.” The executive grunted, sent her away, and forgot all about it. Five years went by before that memo resurfaced into the full-blown marriage of denim and cheese we see today (though the idea to make it a blue cheese did not survive the focus groups).

Man, I just love this stuff, even if it’s very difficult to cut into the rind without scissors, not to mention it doesn’t taste too good. Oh, also, the wheel I had was filled with bugs(!) which apparently sometimes hide in the pockets(?). The denim rind did smell like gasoline which I found kind of a nice touch but I’m sure wouldn’t please everyone. I will say, 501 does pair delightfully with strongly-flavored booze, as this is a cheese that is best left untasted.

Although 501 Cheese was the result of a market research gone haywire, it’s still a noble effort, and an affable, humble, down-to-earth snack, made for the working-class man who just got off of long shift of backbreaking dirt-work and just wants to sit on his couch and take his oppressive tool belt off so he can rest his weary bones and eat a cheese that’s dressed just like him.

FARMER TIRED JIM’S TIRED FARMER CHEESE

The fourth entry in a feature called “Cheese’s Hidden Gems”. These are profiles of cheeses I personally consider to be special because each of them offer a thrilling and unique experience, if you can find them! This was easily the most dangerous assignment I have ever given myself, but it was worth it. Enjoy (and if you do, please share)!

Making cheese can be exhausting, and no one exemplifies this fact more than The Tired Farmer himself, Farmer Tired Jim. As elusive a cheese producer as any, the last time I was able to speak with Jim, his skin was the color of prison wallpaper and he had huge brown burlap sacks under his eyes, his massive body cutting an imposing figure. “Go to sleep, Jim!”, I once told him (in jest). He looked at me bleary-eyed and simply pointed to the large tattoo on his bicep that says, “no.”

Which brings me to his signature product: a fresh farmer cheese made from cow’s milk. It’s mild, and a little sour, almost like cottage cheese. I know this stuff is pretty easy to make, so I’m not sure what takes Tired Jim so long. I once asked him if I could have a look at his operation, ya know, for the blog, and he grabbed me by the back of my neck, drew me in and put a butter knife to my throat. “Operation? Are you a cop, son? A SPY???” I explained I was neither of those things (like I’d tell him anyway) but he seemed actually spooked, so I just dropped it.

Later, after we said our goodbyes, I drove about half a mile away, stopped in a Wal-Mart parking lot and waited. About an hour later, I drove back to Jim’s, parked my car behind his barn, peaked in the window and witnessed a touching scene: Tired Jim drinking black coffee from the pot and giving a gentle pep-talk to his cow, Marigold. Marigold, in return, insisted he not worry about her, that she’s not worth the trouble, and that he get some sleep. I quietly backed away so as not to disturb this intimate moment of rural surrealism. Unfortunately, Jim heard my footsteps and shot out my back windshield as I drove away.

Still, I thought his cheese was pretty good. I had it drizzled with a little olive oil and salt——salt, because I think he forgot to add it this last batch. If this dude would just get some rest, just a little, maybe a nap here and there, I think he’d be capable of a pretty decent farmer’s cheese, maybe even next-level———but don’t hold your breath. This guy is tuckered out.

Cheese Peterson’s Utimate Cheese Guide

WArning: this post contains vulgarity

Throughout my years of working behind the counters of some of the most renowned cheese shops in the United States, I’ve accrued quite a bit of exclusive knowledge. I can tell you things like what kind of fruit goes with what cheese, which cheeses go best with wine, which cheese rinds are edible——I’m pretty sure I’m the only guy who knows this stuff! So please, won’t you let this very basic and easy to follow cheese guide help you better understand cheese, so that whenever you think of cheese, you think of me, Cheese Peterson? Maybe?

A long time ago when I first started out at Helen’s, a tiny little cheese shop in East Texas, my supervisor Stupid Tim and I were working a dead afternoon when one of our regulars paid us a visit. This was my first encounter with him and I knew from the start this guy was trouble. He came up to the counter, looked me right in the eye and said, “Hiya, I was just in the neighborhood, and I gotta ask, what’s your favorite cheese?” He wore a grin like one of Satan’s hounds.

As I considered my answer, I noticed Stupid Tim watching me closely and I immediately knew I was being put on. With no choice but to answer, I went with honesty and said, “cheddar.”

Suddenly, he and Tim exploded into laughter——unhinged, malevolent laughter. They had obviously planned this exchange, perhaps for weeks (knowing how slow Tim works).

Through tears and gasps the customer asked Tim, “This is the guy? Cheese Peterson? The one who loves cheddar cheese?”

“Yeah, that’s him,” Tim laughed back. “Cheese here just loves cheddar. I call him ‘Cheddar Cheese.’ Isn’t that right, Mr. Cheddar Cheese?” He gave my shoulder a shove and got up real close to my face but I remained quiet and still, looking straight ahead like a good soldier. They kept laughing anyway. Then the customer regained his composure and locked eyes with me.

“So, your real name is Cheese, huh?” More chuckles tumbled out of his wet lips.

“Yeah man, that’s my name. What’s your n——”

“—SO then if I FART, that means I’m cutting a YOU?”

Then he laughed, and then Tim laughed, and the thing is, all three of us laughed. The thing is, if I find a joke halfway decent, I laugh no matter what, even if the joke is at my expense, and I’m especially prone to laugh at fart jokes, so in this case, I didn’t stand a chance. But you’re not really supposed to laugh at your bully’s humiliating burns, and unfortunately nobody ever told me that til like a week later.

There I stood laughing while being laughed at. I know laughing was a loser move, but I had no choice. When you’re in the shit, you have to deal with shitty people like that customer, whose name is Jan, pronounced “Yahn” but spelled J-A-N like Jan.

The day he told me his name, I wanted to really make him pay for it, like “oh my god your name is Jăn” and laugh right in his face, maybe ask him if he was born in JANuary. But I didn’t, because number one he’s ex-military, but more importantly, Jan and I are members of the same club. Maybe he didn’t realize it but I did. Both our names are like silly hats we can’t ever take off, and spending your life having to answer for this silly hat you never chose to wear all the time in the first place can eventually make you hate yourself, maybe treat other people like shit as a result. Well, that’s Jan in a nutshell: a lonely, self-loathing jerk who treats people like shit. Not me, though. Jan.

OKAY! let’s talk about some cheese!!!

CHEDDAR

Synopsis: It was the first cheese I ever loved, and then broke up with, and then took back when times got tough. One time, when I was working at Wedgey’s back in Brooklyn, I ate an entire pound of Fiscalini Vintage Cheddar over the course of my six hour shift. At some point Samantha the manager asked me, “Where’s that cheddar I asked you to portion?” I smiled at her and burped while patting my belly. Though she wrote me up for it, she did laugh (while pulling at her hair and saying, “Again? What the fuck?”). It meant a lot to me that she laughed.

Suggestions: Cheddar is the one cheese that always satisfies. It goes well with everything but needs no partner. You can cube it up and toss it in a salad or you can take the whole block and throw it out the window. You can shred it over nachos, you can rub it on your crotch, nobody cares. It’s your cheese and your roommates are vegan. With cheddar, you can do anything.

Wow look at that

BLUE

Synopsis: God I motherfucking love blue cheese. Can I just say that? Can I get that off of my chest already? Oh man, when customers come in and say, “I like everything but blue cheese,” I want to reach across the counter and thrash at their faces! I want to leave scratch marks on their eyelids and bruises on their cheeks for saying something so obscene——so obtuse! You don’t LIKE blue cheese? YOU don’t like blue cheese? You DON’T like blue cheese? Oh, wow, gee, let me alert the media. Let me go tweet at CNN for a minute. Let me tape your photograph to the wall so that everyone will know that YOU are the one who does not like blue cheese. It is so funny to me that these people think they’re special just because they don’t like blue cheese, when the irony is it’s actually people who like blue cheese who are special.

Suggestions: Just eat it, you clown! Put it on a cracker, pair it with apples, smear it on your gums, it’s all good. Once I put blue cheese in an meatloaf and that was NOT good, but forget about that. Look, you take a nice warm slice of whole grain toast, some local honey, a crispy slice of bacon (or two), a fresh, a hot cup of pour-over coffee, a new issue of your favorite magazine, a nice comfy couch, a lover who understands your jokes, a healthy support group of friends who return your texts and a boss who respects you despite everything, all you need is a little bit of blue cheese to make it all sing! You could substitute any one of those other ingredients with good whiskey or hallucinogens but don’t rock both unless you’re a pro.

mmmm wow look at that

GOUDA

Synopsis: Um, Gouda is actually pronounced how-da. Did you know that, stupid? I’m sorry, that was really mean, but that’s how I was taught. Sometimes, to get an important message across, you gotta be really mean. At least, that’s what I was taught. Gouda is a Dutch cheese, named after the village it comes from: Gouda, South Holland. That’s right, there’s more than one Holland. And did you know that Holland isn’t even the name of a country? The name of the country is “The Netherlands.” Ayayay.

Suggestions: Are you making a cheese platter for your next party? I wouldn’t. No one will ever care as much as you want them to. But if you insist on having a cheese platter, make sure you include a nice aged Gouda, the hard kind that tastes really good, and cut it into cubes. Label all the other cheeses like normal but label the Gouda “mystery cheese” Your guests will say, “Oh my goodness! What is THIS? It tastes like CANDY!”

And that’s when you say, “It’s called How-da. It’s pronounced How-da, not Goo-da. It’s How-da.” You have to tell them or else they’ll never know.

Young Gouda. Meh.

BRIE

Description: I’ll never forget the first time I ever tried baked brie with fig jam. Yummerz!© It was around 2002, my first industry party, at Gary Pizzoli’s mansion as a matter of fact. I overheard Stupid Tim talking about it at work and well, he had to invite me. Gary had cheese plates in every room, all arranged according to theme. My first move was for the Aged Cheddar room but it was packed. There was a line AND a cover to get into the Gruyere room next door, so I ventured across the hall into a room that was completely unoccupied. Thanks to foolish geopolitics at the time, Brie was experiencing a lull in popularity, which meant I had the Brie room all to myself for the rest of the night. Heh heh heh, suckers (warmongers!)

Suggestion: Well, besides baking it with fig jam, I guess you could use it like butter, except not to cook with, although I haven’t tried it. You know what, let me go try it real quick.

Okay that was a really dumb idea. Don’t swap out butter for brie, people! Don’t plan a whole dinner based on the idea of using brie instead of butter without even testing it first. Don’t hinge your entire relationship on this one big special dinner coming out perfectly or else. Just eat it! Slather it on a fresh baguette, there’s an easy one. Hey, you could even add brie and sliced apple to your next ham sandwich if you’re doing alright for yourself! Feeling down? Eat it like a stack of pancakes, maple syrup and all. Just…don’t use it like butter.

It do look like butter tho

OTHER

Description: There are other cheeses. There’s goat cheese, sheep’s milk cheese, there’s buffalo, yak cheese, ox’s milk cheese. As a matter of fact, all of the cheeses I listed above can even be made with any kind of milk you want. Yes, there is such a thing as sheep’s milk blue cheese, it’s called Roquefort. Oops! Did that blow your mind? Well try this one on: Sheep piss wildly when milked because the unnatural act being performed fills them with existential dread. Now, what were you saying? About Roquefort? It is delicious, isn’t it?

Suggestion: Perhaps you’re sitting there reading this cheese guide and asking yourself, “what the hell is going on? I just need some quick info about cheese for a party idea!” Well maybe you need more than that, hm? Maybe this cheese plate you’re planning carries too much weight. Stop trying to impress people with borrowed knowledge, girl! If these people wanted esoteric cheese and meat presentations, they can learn how to do that themselves. And some folks don’t even like cheese! You know what guests never say no to? Popcorn. Popcorn is the perfect snack. So uncomplicated. You can even sprinkle cheese on it but then expect your guests to be all like “do you have a napkin?” Ugh.

I’m sorry. I’m just not feeling cheese today.

Thanks for reading, and sign up for my newsletter for more cheese tips and suggestions!

Book Review No. 1

A CHEESE LIFE
by Gary Pizzoli

Book cover of A Cheese Life by Gary Pizzoli

The following is my review of Gary Pizzoli’s new memoir, A Cheese Life. You may remember Gary as the cheese shop owner I met in clown school, the one who helped me get a job at Helen’s but then wouldn’t hire me at his place which was better and he was a real pill about it. Read all about our adventures here.

A lot of folks think it might be foolish of me to publish a review a book whose author “hates” me. They think maybe I have an “agenda,” that I’m going to “drag” him for “petty” reasons, and that if I “go through with this nonsense I may never work in cheese ever again.”

Folks, all I can say is, I read this book cover to cover six or seven times now, and if I can’t talk about how fantastically AMAZING it is, then well I give up. This book is SPECTACULAR!!!

Oh my goodness, the writing, the photography, the typography, the feel of the pages themselves, woooow, it’s all just so stunning! Even the title is good: “A Cheese Life.” Classic, and not at all derivative. The book even had a nice weight to it. You want to take it everywhere with you, but you don’t want it to get beat up.

You know what was obvious? Gary had a blast writing this book, because it is so very funny. This was the most pleasant of surprises! I didn’t expect to LAUGH so much! A moving memoir with a sense of humor? Move over, Mindy Kaling! And eat your heart out while you’re at it!

And did you know Gary also used to be a BLOGGER? Yep, just like me. As an extra, he put in the back of the book screenshots of his first cheese blog from a decade ago ago, all about his little cheese experiences. His first blog ever, get this, was called The Gouda Chronicles. Nerd alert! LOL

That reminded me of my own first cheese blog, The Stilton Chronicles, the one I stopped updating almost immediately after I started it. Then I looked again and saw that The Gouda Chronicles had “only” about 10K followers back then, and has close to a 1M followers now! Wow hey that’s great! SO great that I’ll go ahead and skip linking to it here. I’m sure you can find it just fine on your own.

Also, can I just say? I just think the timing is so curious because I am just about to self-publish my own book, Cheese on Cheese, all about MY cheese life, and it’s like, I don’t have any followers AT ALL, no offense to me, just saying. So maybe he’ll see this, see that I loved his book, and said nice things, and then he’ll tell people all about MY book, which is called Cheese on Cheese and comes out next month.

Or earlier, if you want! It’s ready to publish, I’m the one publishing it, I just figure, you know, I’d wait a little bit? See if anybody wants to read it?

So yeah, that’s it, loved his book, totally read the entire thing, and now I hope he sees this and shares this, and then reads my book, Cheese on Cheese, and reviews it, and then we become friends, and have funny ironic Twitter feuds, and quote movies to each other, and our followers will just eat it up, and put us in memes and stuff.

Call me, Gary! I know you have my number! Let’s talk cheddar! #thingscheesemongerssay

BRIE DE DEBRIS

The third entry in a feature called “Cheese’s Hidden Gems”. These are profiles of cheeses I personally consider to be special because each of them offer a thrilling and unique experience, if you can find them! Brie De Debris is perhaps the most memorable cheese I’ve ever had, as in it’s been six years and I can still kinda taste it. Enjoy (and if you do, please share)!

This indelicate round of earthy yellow paste is one of those cheeses you hear about and roll your eyes over and over until your eyelids begin to smoke, but, and yet, you still think to yourself, “for sure still gotta try it tho”.

Then, one day, you are at the big annual cheese convention, and there it is. You see it and you stand there in your cleverest outfit (blue plaid suit!?) and you’re making sure everyone around you has a chance to see you see the cheese, and then you walk straight for it.

Brie De Debris marks the herald of a lost age of difficult cheese that never was and certainly still could never be. A hasty affair in its innovation, this is the only cheese on the globe to feature whole chunks of spruce bark swimming throughout its gooey curd.

According to the head cheesemaker, Flip “Phillip” Milka, the craftsman behind this five-inch wheel of derring-do, the idea to basically fill the cheese with driftwood was “a wonderful mistake” that he “can never fix” because he has “no more milk” and that “his cow has run away.”

“Some people, they love the taste of wood they cannot eat. Consider this my homage to them,” Milka declared, smiling with his tongue out and crossing his eyes.

This cheese is obviously seasonal, but if you do see it in your local shop, pair with it with a bottle of Clos d’Illuminati et Famiglia et Famiglia to try and wash down the wood chunks. As for vintage, any bottle from when there was terrible weather should work. If you get a bottle from a nice, sunny vintage, it’s going to f*ck everything up.

CHAMBERLOURD CHEDDAR

The second entry in a feature called “Cheese’s Hidden Gems”. These are profiles of cheeses I personally consider to be special because each of them offer a thrilling and unique experience, if you can find them! Chamberlourd Cheddar was my favorite cheese of the year in 2014, according to a notepad I found cleaning out my nightstand. Enjoy (and if you do, please share)!

Chamberlourd!

“Sharp, lactic, dishonest.” Remember those commercials?

My first encounter with Chamberlourd, I didn’t know what to think, how to look at it or where to stand. One whiff of its paste and it’s all yesterday’s newspaper and raw potato. But on the tongue? A carnival of boiled celery and turkey bacon. Wowabunga©!

More urgently, Chamberlourd is the only cheese that “grumbles” when you chew it. It’s true——the volatile chemicals inside the cheese cultivated during maturation react with human saliva and produce sounds akin to a traveling salesman’s inner monologue just after another failed pitch. It’s eerie and haunting and I LOVE it!

Chamberlourd is produced solely from the milk of the Graytooth cow, an especially disenfranchised breed which live exclusively in the abandoned buildings of decaying urban landscapes. These things are not pets, okay? Leave them alone.

The recipe for Chamberlourd has been in the Quinge family for nearly ten years. Homus Quinge, the orphan bachelor who developed the cheese roughly a decade ago, handcrafts the steaming yellow curd into 80 pound cylinders, wraps each wheel in found clothes, and leaves them to age for six to eight months under a busy overpass, where they’re, as he put it, “not safe, but not not safe.”

When ripe, it is best paired with a glass of warm white wine.

No, warmer.

FEASTLY’S BOUNTIFUL WEDGE

This will be the first entry in a feature I call “Cheese’s Hidden Gems”. These will be profiles of cheeses I personally consider to be special because each of them offer a thrilling and unique experience, if you can find them! My first profile is about Feastly’s, which in my opinion has never gotten its due. Enjoy (and if you do, please share)!

The family is beginning to arrive. The fireplace roars in the living room as the turning leaves fall from the skies into the knee-deep snow. Everyone greets each other with warm hugs and ice cold lemonade while the fire works explode outside. Is it someone’s birthday? That’s up to you.

No matter the occasion, every snack table worth a darn should feature that big, intimidating wedge of Feastly’s. It’s a cheese that has always been there, on countertops and tables, arranged on a platter, there it is, next to the green grapes and the grape tomatoes and, yep, the grape jelly.

“This is the stuff my grandma used to eat,” you’d all say simultaneously as you scoop off a gob of Feastly’s and smear it on a grip of good hard bread. Some like the bread absolutely rock hard, and some prefer it “sailor style,” dipping their bread in a fishbowl before applying the Feastly’s. There’s literally no wrong way to eat Feastly’s Bountiful Wedge*.

Feastly’s is made from, and this is my best guess, nine different kinds of milk.

No, wait, maybe it’s the milk of the same nine cows, who all live in a big house in the city.

Yes, that’s exactly it, I just looked it up. It’s the same nine cows, and all their immediate families. The cows are called the Feastly Nine, but there number far more than only nine. There’s like hundreds of them, and they all have the same birthmark, and they can all kindof…speak.

These nine cows and their kin are a big deal in the cheese world with rival cheese farmers trying for decades to replicate the conditions of this process, sometimes substituting goats or oxen for cows with little success. Feastly’s has often been compared to Jaegermeister for its secretive recipe and strong notes of inedible roots on the palate.

Feastly’s is only known in a few pockets of the world and those pockets are sadly being sewn up. So, if you see a wheel of this stuff in the grocery store, snatch it up, because recent reports say the Feastly Nine and their family are being murdered one by one in mysterious execution-style hits.

Sad stuff. Terrific cheese, however!

*except after a week from when you first open it. Eat it now and eat it quickly before it turns gray-brown and hard like stone and starts to smell like a dead possum. After a five business days, throw it away, and then take the trash out, whether it’s garbage night or not. Take the fine; you don’t want this cheese in your kitchen past date, trust me. Don’t trust me? Trust the CDC.
But when it’s fresh? Chef’s kiss!

Origin Story Pt. 3

Okay, if there are THREE distinct eras in my life, they are most certainly

  1. My life before I worked at Helen’s
  2. My Post-Helen’s Purgatory in Blessed, TX
  3. Austin and beyond

Austin, TX was very kind to me. Possibly too kind. My first week there, I was out cruising the main strip and walked into a tiny food co-op, Goddess Harvest, staffed with scruffy smiling young people all wearing aprons they brought from home. I asked if they were looking for anyone, and a woman with eight colors in her hair smiled and said “always” while nodding her head to the free-jazz coming from the little boombox above the front entrance.

I said, “I know Cheese. I am Cheese.”

“Rad,” she said. She was Jacinta, the food and beverage manager, and this exchange ended up counting as my interview. I started the next day, portioning and wrapping cheese. My wages were meager, but we were allowed to bring home whatever was in the Free Box, which was filled with everything from too-soft avocados to bean dip from the previous summer to a discarded blue tuxedo.

Over the months, I found The Free Box to be a veritable font of yesterday’s bread, expired jams and weird pickles no one likes——it was like getting a free scholarship to Cheesemonger University! That’s what I kept telling myself, anyway. Another way to see it is I lived off spoiled food for over a year. Let’s just say both and move on.

I spent nearly a decade in Austin but it felt like a weekend mostly because I was smashed just about the entire time. My stint at Goddess Harvest introduced me to just about every sustainability-minded party-loving foodie in Central Texas. Austin seemed like an easy ladder to climb, but this is deceiving; there’s no ladder in Austin, just a bitchin’ public pool that everyone swam and shat in, and if you were down with that, you were groovy. Turns out I can barely doggy-paddle and I am far from groovy.

I got lucky with a rent-controlled apartment on the East Side that I moved into within my first week there and I never left. It was there that I hosted some of the craziest Cheese *and* Charcuterie ragers Austin has ever experienced. People I didn’t know and would never see again came to my parties to try the cheeses I’d brought in from all over the world, listening to the mixes I had meticulously constructed for each party, careful to curate a casual, pleasurable experience in exchange for attention. I was living the pretentious cocktail party foodie bachelor life and loving every minute of it. But, like a $20 sports coat from H&M, it just couldn’t last.

One nice thing in those days is rarely did my name come up, and when it did, it rarely mattered. Once I met a guy named Suplex Duplex. Another guy I met was named Lattice——just Lattice. Can you believe that? Austin is so weird. I met both those guys at one of my parties one night. I don’t know who they were with or if they were in the specialty food industry, but they said they really liked all my “cheese and wine and beer and meat and music collection and clown wig.”

After the party, I noticed a few of my things were missing, including the wig. Yes, the new wig my mom gave me. I went berserk, shaking down everyone at Goddess, losing my wig over losing my wig. “Who took my fluffy red wig? Was it YOU? Did you put Suplex up to this?” I was a drunk and terrifying mess.

And that was it for me at Goddess Harvest, sending me into another tailspin.

After Goddess, I tried my hand at waiting tables. I put in a few years at a local pizza joint, The Roman Pit, working lunches there while moonlighting at various other flash-in-the-pan dining establishments. I could handle serving slices during the day, when I was sober, but the lower the sun dropped, the more I would drink, until night had fallen completely and I was “ready” for my evening shift, breath smelling of Crest and Root Beer schnapps.

Shifts would often go like this:

“Cheese, you’re late. And you’re drunk. You can’t be doing this every week! Every night now! It’s not fair to me and it’s not fair to the staff. Get your shit together. This is the last time I’m telling you, dude.” And so on.

What am I supposed to do with that? I’m a cheese guy!

This is one of the reasons why I should have been blogging the whole time. Fewer eyes spying on you, judging your every move, following you into the walk-in freezer where you were hoping to at least hit the Root Beer schnapp’s you’d hidden behind the pork butt.

I was spinning my wheels with all these restaurant gigs, slowly forgetting everything knew about cheese. I needed to get back on that cheese path, and fast.

It was around this time, in 2005, at age 27, when I started my first Cheese Blog, and I called it “The Stilton Chronicles”. I got about four entries in before I forgot my password and couldn’t update it anymore. But that was just the beginning. I was now determined to make my mark on the cheese world.

A few months later, I started a new cheese blog that I kept going a little longer, called “The Daily Cheddar”. This blog started out as a personal cheese log, documenting a new cheese every single day, but after a week, I had exhausted every cheese available from my neighborhood grocery: Cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack, Blue, American, Cream and Easy.

My entry on Easy Cheese lit a little fire, earning two (2) comments, both positive, or at least encouraging in the abstract. One was, “ha ha I used to live off this stuff in college,” and the other was, “I totally forgot about Easy Cheese!!!” My hard work was finally paying off and I was getting some recognition.

I started and abandoned six more cheese blogs before finally getting published in Cheese Bard Monthly, a literary magazine dedicated to cheese/literature lovers. My first piece for them was a poem called It’s Manchego, Not Manchengo, written in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. The poem was a hit with their readers, so they commissioned more pieces from me, asking if I could do longer form poetry about even rarer cheeses. The last piece I submitted to them was, at the time, what I considered my master work: an emotional thousand-word love letter to the stinkier variety of cheese, titled, Olfactory Daze.

Despite how much they appreciated my work, print media was on a downward trend, and the nice folks at Cheese Bard Monthly had to close up shop, and all before I could ever collect my fee.

Oh, son of a bitch, that’s right, they never even paid me!!! Ugh, now I’m mad about it all over again.

Around 2012, I moved to New York City with the intention of entering and winning the Annual Cheesemonger Invitational. This is basically the Olympics for the most dedicated of the artisanal cheese industry, where slicing the perfect quarter-pound wedge of Gruyere or spinning a giant wheel of brie on your index finger can net you $500 or more, plus a tote bag. I decided that this would be my ticket to foodie fame——if I won this, then I would be invited on podcasts and ham it up with other cheese industry icons and maybe everyone will discover and read my cheese blog. Everyone.

Well, shirt. I lost the Invitational five years in a row. However, I did reach the finals one year, as an alternate, when one of the finalists called in sick (yeah right, sure they were sick, that’s the oldest one in the book).

I spent every year in New York working for a different cheese shop, each one more rinky-dink than the last. Wedgey’s, Brooklyn Stink, The Bloomy Wheel, Goat & Sheep Are Friends, and finally, Pasture Valley Meadow Creek Farms, in Park Slope. At each of these places, I probably should have been focusing on my job, but instead I was using all my time to practice for the Invitational, and ruining numerous wheels in the process, all for naught.

After half a decade of coming up short of victory (and several nervous breakdowns, one where I began granny-tossing cheese curds into the mouths of reluctant subway riders, then demanding payment) my mind yearned for a new and kinder environment. I left New York for Los Angeles, CA, a utopian’s dystopia.

Once in Los Angeles, where I currently reside, I found a stable little job in the specialty cheese department of a corporate “organic” grocery. I make the same amount I was making twenty years ago with leaner benefits, but that doesn’t matter. I’m just happy to be around cheese. Now that I have all those dreams of fame behind me, I feel liberated enough to start this blog, where I just can be myself and talk about cheese, or be Cheese and talk about myself😂.

I hope you enjoy this blog. I will post cheese-related lists and blurbs plus stories from my years of experience, with a little commentary on the cheese industry at large mixed in. If there is anything you’d like me to comment on or blog about, feel free to drop me a line at cheesepeterson@protonmail.com.

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