PHEW. I made it home today! Here are some quick observations of the day:
1) I love my job. I love learning about cheese and wine. I love seeing the new products we get, and speaking about them with customers. I love handling the cheese!
2) Today, a lot of British people came in.
I thought I would be making chutney today, but sadly, in my rush around the store and at home trying to find all the ingredients this morning, I left my recipe at home. Sorry folks, my delicious chutney story will have to wait until tomorrow!
I thought that, since the store is usually quiet during the day, I would get bored because of my non-chutney cooking. But really, how could I get bored? As it turned out, I was so busy, I probably wouldn’t have had time to make chutney. Just as I was photographing all of the luscious blue cheeses to show all of you, a cheese delivery arrived! It felt like Christmas! In it, we got some d’affinois, manchego, drunken goat (wine-washed goat from Spain), Humboldt Fog, AND my big three contenders for the day: two full balls of aged Mimolette, one entire wheel of Piave, and one half wheel (wheel, not drum!) of Parmigiano Reggiano.
First up was the Mimolette. I tried the wire on it, no go, so I waited until trying to cut one of those balls in half to put on display. I decided to take on the smallest one, the wheel of Piave. I had to call my boss about tips on how to cut the 10 (at least?) lb. wheel in half. She suggested scoring it first. I did this, and then broke out the double-handled knife to try and cut into the tough rind! It took some work, and I really had to lean on the knife with all my weight (during this time, all I could think was, “If only I was a foot higher to get some more leverage!”). Eventually, though, I felt the knife slice through the hard paste. Success!
Then, I felt ready to take on the Mimolette. This cheese resembles a 9 lb. cantaloupe in size, shape, and texture. The rind, which is natural, is quite dusty. So there we were, the ball of Mimolette and me. I scored it, and tried the double-handled knife. But, alas, this is a ball! It rolls! I had a VERY difficult time trying to keep it still to cut it open. In the end, I really don’t know how I managed to make a dent in it at all. In addition to being a sphere, the Mimolette is VERY dense. Legend has it that French warships, during the time of Louis XIV, used the cheese for cannonballs when they ran out of real ones. If you hit someone hard enough with this cheese, you could easily knock her out. After we wrestled for about 10 minutes, the Mimolette sort of sighed and reluctantly let me cut it open, albeit crookedly. I tried, that’s all I can say. When it comes time to cut the second one, I’ll have to try some new methods to keep the cut clean.
The last cheese, the Parmigiano, this king of cheeses, was kind of a draw. This was also a massive chunk of cheese that was as wide as the work table. I can’t say with certainty how much it weighed, but maybe it was at least 20 pounds. I spent a fair amount of time working on it with the double-handled knife, but again I had the same problems of getting enough leverage; the blade wound up cutting the cheese a little crookedly. However, once I got that half-wheel cut in half, the pieces were small enough for me to use the wire, which made for some smooth cutting afterward. So with the Parmigiano, one cut is a little crooked, but the other cuts are smooth.
I was even sweating from all of my cheese cutting efforts; this was hard work! Not all of the cheeses were so belligerent, though. The Drunken Goat, a semi-soft cheese, was easy to cut with the wire. The Manchego was small enough to be left whole. We received some cheddars; they cut pretty easily with the wire and knives.
All in all, I felt pretty accomplished after this episode! I don’t know what other experience compares to hacking away at an enormous wheel of cheese, to be the first person to set eyes on that virgin paste, and to be the first person to taste from it. These cheeses have not quite reached their peak, which is perfect, because now we can store them and let them age a bit more, then sell them when they ARE at their finest and ready for customers. This job has plenty of moments of discovery and mystery, and new shipments of cheese do keep the novelty alive!
It was a good thing I managed to put all of the cheeses away, because as soon as I did, customers started pouring in through the doors, and I needed to play the roles of cheesemonger AND sommelier (definitely a new role for me) and fromager/sommelier to do some wine and cheese pairings for clients. I worked with clients nonstop for about four hours after handling all of that cheese. My workday lasted about 11 hours today, and all I could think about, besides the tasks at hand, was “I deserve a cookie.” Needless to say, I am tuckered out!