The Cheese Truck

I manage the dessert menu in it’s entirety.  This means not only creating the desserts and producing the components on a daily basis, but developing their replacements as the seasons change, and managing the inventory and ordering of my ingredients, and producing extras like the little amaretti cookies that come with each cup of coffee.

But vying for my favorite aspect of my job is managing the cheese plate.  This entails creating garnishes, and keeping 4 different cheese on hand at any given time, all up to my own discretion.

This job is made easier and more enjoyable with the help of Ed and the Peterson Company, who have given Ed a large white truck packed with cheeses.  Ed arrives after a prompting phone call, cheese in tow, to help me choose.

This kind of face to face interaction is priceless to me.  My own cheese monger, who knows me and my taste, the requirements of my cheese plate.

Ed knows that I love to celebrate American artisan cheeses, and am a sucker for anything Basque.  He knows that my triple creams may spend a month in my walk in, and any tendency to ooze or further ripen during that period is a deterrent for me.  He knows my price point and helps me balance costs.  He knows that our chef loves Blue D’Auverne, and I love to try different blues every time.  He tells me that the Rouge Creamery smokey blue is incredibly popular, but has a flavor profile like cheeses we haven’t liked in the past.

Sometimes when the truck arrives there are new things to taste, like the Knights Vail, a buttercup orange washed rind cows milk cheese from a small creamery in Wisconsin.  A cheese I added to my purchase before I swallowed my first bite.

Sometimes there are cheese makers on the truck, like the fellow from Cypress Grove, a cheese producer from northern California who’s Humbolt Fog cheese has been a favorite of mine for years.  This day, I had no intention of purchasing another Cypress Grove cheese, as there had been two in my rotations over the previous months, and I like to share the love.  But since the cheese maker was standing there, I chose a third.

I was justly rewarded with what is my new favorite Cypress Grove cheese, their Midnight Moon.  This black waxed wheel, an impressive 18 inches across, holds a goat cheese made in the fashion of Gouda.  Each bite yields intense flavor and a much sought after “crunch” of salty crystals which are formed as moisture evaporates and calcium lactate crystallizes.  Thank goodness there is so much, because I can’t keep my fingers out of this beauty.

It’s a rarity to have this kind of face to face interaction with purveyors anymore.  Eva sought out the few individuals like this left in our world.  Like Merv, who brought produce from Yakima in his pick up once a week.  Merv who did this in his retirement from dairy farming, who stayed with his daughter here in the city, who took his wife to Branson once a year for vacation.

Or Tian, who brought produce collected from small farmers just north of the Canadian Border.  An Asian immigrant working hard to succeed, who had wild mushrooms she was delivering held at the border.  An aging woman we consoled as we helped translate a needlessly cruel letter describing the infested state of the mushrooms, which were held in a warehouse and inspected 30 days after being taken from her.

But it takes a huge effort to keep purveyors like these.  Large companies not only have unbeatable prices on most items, but they have delivery minimums upwards of two hundred dollars.  As a small business, this is a hard minimum to make at times.  We need a delivery to arrive with things we are out of, but when it’s not enough to make our minimum, you get creative and start tacking on extras, like dairy from the produce company, or eggs from the meat company.

What this does to people like Merv, and Tian, is limit a small business’s ability to order from many purveyors.  If you have consolidated all your purchases just to make a minimum, then Merv is out of luck, and out of business.

It’s infuriating, really.  Because face to face interaction with purveyors like Ed and his cheese truck, Merv, Tian, and the many others that I met working at Eva, is invaluable to me.  And I see how fragile it is, how quickly we can loose these amazing people.

6 Responses to “The Cheese Truck”

  1. Yvo says:

    The cheeses sound lovely, but the cruel letter sounds… so… awful.

  2. I just learned about Blue D’Auvergne from the Cheese Cellar down by Fischer Plaza, and loved it. The combination of “blue” intensity with creaminess was great on polenta. I’m glad there are still some small purveyors in the world.

  3. Roberto N. says:

    Taking care of the Cheese Cart in Maestro was one of the most fun, interesting and enlightening parts of my job there. There’s an English blue made out of Goat’s milk… a must try!

  4. Sean says:

    You’ve probably tried Point Reyes blue, but it is one of my favorites. I was staging at Gilt tonight and they received an unexpected substitution in their cheese delivery. Instead of their normal blue they were given a “classic blue log” from Westfield Farm. It’s a goat’s milk and has a very nice subtle blue flavor. It would be a great way to introduce people to blue who might otherwise be afraid of it.

  5. mandy says:

    We small cheesemakers appreciate your love for the one-on-one time! We truly appreciate those restaurants and shops who value time spent with the smaller purveyors or even the producers themselves. It creates a greater sense of community and truthfully provides a greater satisfaction to the producers when we leave your storefront or kitchen, stoked that you either loved our latest addition or had something constructive to offer when you didn’t.
    I know it’s difficult to maintain these relationships when a distributor’s truck can just bring a little of everything, and sometimes it’s hard for us smaller guys to find that balance between time on the farm and time with our customers, but I think you may see a shift in direct sales from smaller producers, especially as second generations come up in the ranks. If you haven’t already, check out Mt. Townsend Creamery in your area. They’re awesome guys with great cheese! :)

  6. dana says:

    Michael- There is a wide range of quality in the “Blue D’Auvergne” family, which I have discovered the hard way. Many producers make cheeses under this label, from what I understand simply means blue cheese from the Auvergne region. Peterson has a direct relationship with a producer in France who is making a blue for their own distribution, it’s quite nice, much milder than most.

    Roberto and Sean- My most recent blue purchase was indeed a Blue de Chevre! It’s French, and has a nice white rind, and is a large triangle log. It was the first time seeing a goats blue.

    Mandy- I do love Mt. Townsend. I often purchase their cheeses for my plate. I love having something made so close to home, and it’s absolutely delicious as well. I would really love to try your cheeses as well, are they distributed in Seattle? I’ll start asking around :)

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