Four-hundred-and-thirty pounds of cheese. Let that number sink in: 4-3-0.
It sounds like it could be a metaphor for my life. Or not a metaphor, but rather my reality—although there are way more than 430 pounds of cheese in my shop.
It could also refer to my four days in San Francisco for the Three-Day Intensive Cheese Program at The Cheese School of San Francisco. I may have nearly eaten that much cheese during my stay.
But really, that number describes the bounty awaiting me in the cooler when I came back to work the morning after I returned from the Bay Area.
As in, one 175-pound wheel of French Emmenthaler, balanced totally safely (not) on the top shelf of the cooler; one 90-pound wheel of 9-month aged Comté; one 85-pound wheel of 15-month aged Comté; and one 80-pound wheel of 24-month aged Comté. 175+90+85+80=430 pounds of cheese.
All four of these wee wheels sat expectantly, wrapped in rumpled brown paper, patiently awaiting their turns at becoming spectacles on the sales floor while being severed in half and then into quarters.
(And, of course, the Emmenthaler had to be wrangled down from its precarious perch without killing anyone. I have never seen one man able to lift a cheese that big by himself, but I saw it that day with my own eyes. Our assistant deli manager is a real-life Hercules, I kid you not.)
It may be March, but there is a veritable mountain of Alpine cheeses in my shop. That is to say that it need not be Fondue season for you to enjoy Swiss-style cheeses. You don’t have to melt them; you can eat them on a cheese plate just like any other snacking cheese.
The Comté wheels are actually part of something neat that we are doing at each of the seven specialty cheese shops in our company–although my display is the best (duh): all three ages are arranged on top of the cheese case, in order from youngest to oldest, and customers (and staff!) are encouraged to try the three in what we would call a horizontal tasting order. You taste the three cheeses side-by-side so that you can compare the young Comté to the teenager and to the seasoned adult; you can experience their nuances, feel their differing textures on your tongue, decide which you like the best.
Fact: the French generally prefer to eat their Comté (remember, French version of Gruyère!) young, like the 9-month-old version we have. But the Americans vastly seem to prefer the old, crunchy, two-year version. I appreciate all three of them for their differences, although I do secretly prefer the 24-month version.
The 9-month Comté is fruity, smooth, and creamy on the mouth. The 15-month Comté is sharper, grassier, more floral, and a little firmer. The 24-month Comté is nutty with a butterscotch-crunchy texture that reminds of well-aged Gouda.
And that Emmenthaler? It’s just there to be big, bold, and full of holes.
Fewer than 24 hours after returning from San Francisco and the biggest cheese experience of my life to date, I found myself leading my team through the proper cutting technique for the biggest cheeses they will experience in our shop (aside from Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano, that is).
It’s exciting to cut big cheeses, but it is monumental to cut four of them in one day (or 430 pounds’ worth of them).
But what’s also really exciting is the cheese education and tourism I experienced in San Francisco last weekend, not just as someone who used to live in the Bay Area, but as someone who has in the time since discovered a passion for cheese that burns brighter than a bonfire.
I’ll be writing about my time at the Cheese School and some Bay Area cheese tourism over the next few days. Stay tuned!