People find their way to cheesemongering many ways, but I’ve noticed that cheesemongers have a couple of things in common: they tend to be good natured, content in their own company, and 24/7 curious about the object of their desire: cheese.
Mississippi Market’s cheesemongers, Kevin Lewsader (Selby) and Brent Ebensperger (W. 7th), tumbled into the world of cheese almost inadvertently, and both realized quickly that they had landed where they needed to be. Brent was only looking for a foot in Mississippi Market’s door when he was hired to work part-time at the deli:
“After a few months, the cheese department had space for a couple of shifts a week. I ended up getting one of them, and I was hooked. The world of cheese is so content heavy; there’s so much variety. I love how it always has something new hiding around the next corner.”
Brent credits his interest in cheese—and other foods—to his parents:
I was lucky to grow up in a household with parents who knew what good food was. My mother would use cheese like Parmaggiano Reggiano and gruyère in her recipes. I remember at the age of about 10, I had a piece of Dubliner and for the first time I really understood that cheddar doesn’t have to be just plain and yellow but instead can create a taste explosion in your mouth. It can feed you so many different flavors that you can’t count them all.”
Brent’s plans for the cheese department at W. 7th revolve around local cheeses. “We are surrounded by some of the nation’s best cheese makers—for example, Alamar cheese down in Mankato makes an incredible camembert-style cheese that rivals its European counterparts. The Caves of Fairbault are currently making the only sandstone cave-aged blue cheese in the country. A couple from Holland relocated near Thorp, Wisconsin, and are cranking out award-winning raw-milk gouda. So being in the center of all these world-class creameries and keeping our selection as local as possible just makes sense economically and environmentally. In the long run, I hope to grow our cheese selection as much as possible by bringing in new cheeses every month.”
Kevin Lewsader, cheese buyer at the Selby store, also fell into the world of cheese: “I fell in love with cheese when I started working at Mississippi Market, and it has been a torrid love affair ever since. I started in the deli and quickly longed to work in the cheese dept. The giant blocks of crumbly cheddar, glistening 80-pound wheels of Reggiano, slabs of blue cheese that looked like marble, taleggio that stank like a foot but somehow tasted like a dream come true, steaming baths of fresh mozzarella, and a giant, intimidating cheese knife—all of these drew me toward to the mysterious and delicous land of cheese. I learned a lot from a lot of people, including James Talbot, who is now our grocery manager. The more I learned, the more I loved.
Two things I really like about working with cheese are the connection I feel to the many small artisan (and in many cases local) producers who make the cheese I love to eat; there’s an artistry and pride in cheesemaking that is really cool, and I also enjoy being able to sell something that genuinely adds to the enjoyment of people’s lives. There aren’t many things in life that are better than good food.”
One thing Brent and Kevin want you to know? Brent says, “Store your cheese with care to protect those delicate flavors! Refrigerators are inherently destructive to cheese—most of them offer no humidity control, air is in constant circulation, and they often contain odors that can permeate your cheese.”
“If you plan on eating the cheese the same day,” Brent continues, ”then don’t even refrigerate it. To keep your cheese as fresh as possible, wrap it in a piece of parchment paper, folding up the paper’s corners, then loosely wrap it in again plastic wrap, and finally add a layer of tin foil. Then place it in the vegetable crisper- the warmest spot in your fridge. This allows the cheese to breathe while keeping most of the moisture in and odors out. I know it seems like overkill, but this method goes a long ways to preserve that $20/pound piece of cheese you just bought.”