A lot of the work that I’m particularly proud of at Westside Market East Village is in introducing people who don’t consider themselves to be beer drinkers to beers or ciders that they enjoy. About once a week someone will tell me that they didn’t like beer until they tried my free samples and discovered a whole new world called saison or that their new favorite vocabulary word is Brettanomyces. Sunday was a chance to see if I could stretch the playing field in a comparable way with cheese. The nature of our store is that all of the cheese is pre cut and wrapped, and although the section is meticulously maintained (there are two guys who spend 60 hours a week cutting, wrapping, cleaning and rewrapping cheese), this still isn’t optimal for the cheese, and the lack of cheesemongering limits the kind of cheeses that we carry.
Not that the buyer doesn’t take chances. Sunday my colleague gave me pieces of Cantal, an earthy buttery French cheese from the Auvergne, to sample, and I knew why. Cantal, much like a traditional English Cheddar, molds quickly, so I bet that the cheese guys were cleaning it often. The mold on Cantal isn’t “bad.” In fact, it makes the cheese tastier; peppery and earthy notes are more prominent. When I worked at Bedford Cheese Shop in Brooklyn, many customers wanted the bluest cheddar available. My colleague was concerned that I happily left the blue on the surface of the cheese and charged onto the sales floor. “Trust me,” I told him.
To pair with the Cantal, I fulfilled a request. One of the deli managers requested that I sample the Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout as he and his girlfriend had been surveying the dark beers in the inventory, and he wanted to make that one next. He liked the stout, its chocolaty and anise notes were different from other dark beers in our midst. Those overtones enabled the beer to pair nicely with the earthiness of the cheese. When the stout ran out, I switched to Stillwater Brontide, a Belgian Brown Ale, brewed by a Brooklyn based gypsy brewer. The Brontide is lighter and has distinctive caramel notes. If any of the clientele were put off by the moldy cheese, they kept it to themselves. I underestimated them again; I’ll have to some washed rinds in the near future.
Sunday often feels like one long dialogue with a variety of customers; Monday is completely different. The hustle bustle takes over and rush hour borders on a stampede of well dressed urbanites reacting to offers of free artisanal cheese and craft beer with something that borders on contempt. I was left to my devices and chose Etorki, a semi soft sheep cheese from the Basque regions of France (hence the unGaul-like name). The cheese has a muted, grassy sweetness: think of the aroma of dewey meadows in the morning. I figured that would be perfect for the savory overtones and crisp flavor of a classic lager, so I chose the Mahr’s unfiltered lager. The handful of people who tried it liked the pairing, and they were delighted to discover that Etorki was on sale. One woman also enjoyed the beer enough to comment that she didn’t think she liked lagers, but now she knew different.