Market Musings Blog

The Cheesiest – meet our cheesemongers

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.”

Fondue & Raclette – A new winter tradition

On a cool winter night, the crisp air on the dim streets makes you just cold enough to welcome the warmth of a fondue restaurant. The windows are all steamed up, making it impossible to see inside. When you walk inside, the pungent smell of melting cheese and white wine envelopes you and pulls you in.  The mood in these restaurants is always festive. The sound of a number of conversations taking place at the same time invites you to take your coat off and stay awhile.

It was in a restaurant such as this that I spent my first Thanksgiving abroad. I was living in Fribourg, a town right on the edge of French-speaking Switzerland and German-speaking Switzerland. In fact the town itself is divided, with French spoken in the city-center and German spoken in the valley surrounding it.

Fribourg, Switzerland, home of a most magnificent fondue.

Fribourg is also home to what is reputedly the world’s best fondue – Fondue moitie-moitie (half & half) made with half Gruyere and half Vacherin Fribourgois, both made right there in the foothills of the Alps.

I was introduced to raclette on a ski vacation in Valais during Christmas break. I had no idea that melted cheese over boiled potatoes and cut pickles could be so satisfying!

The amazing fondue moitie-moitie

One of my favorite things about both fondue and raclette is that they’re communal – everyone sticking their forks into the hot pot of cheese, spinning them to catch just the right amount on the broken bread.

Or in the case of raclette, sliding your cheese into the grill and waiting for it to melt. This is all really conducive to conversation. Plus, there is always something being passed around – a basket of bread, a bottle of white wine (to help with digestion, they say); and in the case of raclette, typically little pickles, boiled potatoes, cocktail onions. By the end of the meal, one feels warm and satisfied and very happy.

The memories are enough to make me wonder why I didn’t bring this winter tradition home with me. This year, I’ll be asking for a fondue pot for Christmas.

Tradition Swiss raclette Photo courtesy of cookingwithali.wordpress.com

If your interested in learning more about fondue & raclette, take a class by Mary Jo Rasmussen & Kelly Smeltzer on the basics of a successful fondue, what cheeses work best and how to add flavor to your fondue. They’ll also serve a traditional Swiss raclette, where the cheese is melted and then scraped onto diners’ plates.

Local Profile: Rochdale Farms

Spring Special: Rochdale’s 18 month Aged Goat Cheddar
Only $9.99/lb (Regularly $11.99/lb) • On sale through June 30, 2011

Meet one of the goats responsible for Rochdale Farms’ 18 month aged goat cheddar.

A favorite producer here at Mississippi Market, Rochdale Farms Cheese is locally and cooperatively owned.  Rochdale Farms is the creation of Mary Bess Michaletz and Bentley Lein. It was created with the intention to foster the growth of small local dairy producers and to create delicious and creative cheeses.  Rochdale sells all of their cheeses exclusively to natural food cooperatives.

Most of the milk Rochdale uses comes from a network of over 325 small Amish family farms spread across Wisconsin and Minnesota. These family run farms take an extraordinary amount of care into the treatment of their animals and their land. Each farm has a small single heard of cows or goats that is milked by hand every day. The extremely fresh milk is brought to K&K creamery, in traditional milk cans, where it is produced and is overseen by Master cheese maker Tom Torkelson.

Rochdale makes affordable everyday favorites such as organic Mild & Sharp Cheddar, Provolone, and String Cheese. In addition, they have also created a tremendous line of artisan cheese. Unique and hand-made, this line includes Cellar Aged Gouda, Cave-Aged Blue, Reserve Alpine Emmentaller, and Extra Aged Goat Cheddar. Mississippi Market is excited to offer this line of cooperatively made cheese.