One of a cheese blogger’s favorite activities is . . . to interview other cheese writers! This time, I had the
chance to chat with one of my own writing role models, Madame Fromage, or Tenaya Darlington to the rest of the world. We shared our thoughts on writing, cheese adventures, and the lovely people who inhabit the cheesy world.
How did you get involved in writing about cheese?
I moved to Philadelphia from Madison, Wisconsin in 2005 for a new job, and I didn’t know a single person. Of course I missed my dairy, so I began lurking around cheese counters and farmers’ markets for tastes of home. I met wonderful people this way – local cheesemakers, dairy farmers, food nuts, retail geeks – and I began tasting a wild range of cheeses that floored me, from clothbound cheeses to “drunken” cheeses. I realized I could “go around the world” through flavor. Once my obsession took root, I needed a way to chronicle it, so I started a cheese blog. That was three years ago.
Tell me about your Swiss family and their influence on your palate!
My grandparents emigrated from Switzerland to Cleveland in the ‘50s and never lost their love of Alpine stinkers, like Gruyère and Emmentaler. I grew up going to their house for Raclette and fondue around the holidays, and now all winter long I subsist on these two delicacies. A love of stinky cheese must be in my DNA.
What has been your experience with the community of cheese?
Cheese folk are like theatre geeks; they’re passionate and eclectic. There are history buffs who will tell you about cheese references in the Decameron. There are farmers who travel to France and experience epiphany – they come home and start tinkering with cheese recipes in their garage (and want you to taste their experiments and give feedback). You’ve got career cheesemongers who work around cheese all their lives and know all about seasonality and flavor. They are like encyclopedias of food pairings. It’s marvelous.
Why do you continue to write about cheese?
Well, there is always more cheese to eat. And everywhere I go, people want to learn about it. I joke that I have become a “cheese courtesan” – a sort of court entertainer who helps others experience dairy pleasure. I like meeting someone and matching them up with their perfect cheese, even if it’s only in my mind.
Have you got any particularly memorable moments you’d like to share from your cheese journey?
Cheese has led me on some unusual journeys actually. Last summer, for example, I stayed at someone’s empty flat in Manhattan in exchange for a hunk of good cheese. The owner was a blog reader, and she invited me to come stay without ever having met me. She literally mailed me the key to her apartment, and I ferried a gorgeous, craggy, sparkly hunk of Cravero Parmigiano to New York to leave in her crisper, along with a jar of truffle honey. I had a fabulous weekend in New York – and instead of airbnb, I used fromage bnb.
Tell me about your work at Di Bruno Bros.
Di Bruno Bros. is the largest and oldest cheese counter locally – it’s got third-generation owners, and they take such pride in carrying unusual selections from artisan cheesemakers around the world. I came to Philadelphia with the address to Di Bruno Bros. in my pocket, and once I entered their caves I never wanted to come out. The cheesemongers who work there taught me everything I know – every week, I go in and I ask, “What’s new?” and they hand me a sample of something unimaginable. This week, it was a cheese pressed in straw.
A few years ago, I started writing for their site (www.dibruno.com) and coaching their cheesemongers to blog. I even taught a workshop for them on writing about cheese. This summer, we are releasing a cheese book together. It’s been an incredible collaboration. [Miss Cheesemonger: I’m reading this book right now! It is really a beautifully written treat!]
Is there anything you would like our readers to know?
Every state in the U.S. has cheesemakers. When you travel, seek them out. When I go on vacation, I always seek out cheese shops and ask to try the local dairy. I always meet interesting people that way.
What would be your dream cheese plate with cheeses from you region?
- Amazing Acres Sea Smoke (a goat muffin with a line of ash and a veil-like rind)
- Noble Road (an ultra creamy round from Calkins Creamery)
- Kidchego (goat Manchego, made by the Amish)
- Red Cat (the local raw-milk stinker, from Birchrun Hills Farm)
- Hidden Hills Old Gold (a sicko good Gouda)
- Valley Shepherd’s Crema de Blue (an award winning “Roquefort” from New
Thanks, Tenaya! I am looking forward to hunting for these cheeses in SF!