Features NY Life — 15 June 2011
The Joy of Cheese at The Clerkenwell

Blog: The Joy of Cheese

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Martin Johnson is a cheese enthusiast. His conversational and intimate sessions presented under the moniker “The Joy of Cheese” blend the different sects of the vast world of dairy with informative storytelling about the creation, the preservation, the aging, and the nuances of cheese. The soft-spoken former freelance journalist turned cheese manager and writer’s love for cheese bleeds through his every explanation of each. And better yet, the over sixty minute presentation lends itself to ten different tastings- a fantastic value for a truly different event offered around Manhattan multiple times each month.

Tuesday evening’s affair, titled “The Joy of Cheese Presents Fromage American: Part Deux,” was held at The Clerkenwell, a casual lower east side gastropub that proved to play the perfect host for such an event. Says Johnson, the focus on American cheeses was held under the notion that because cheeses are improving every year, “enough American cheeses are of such high caliber that they can be sold in any French fromagerie without condescension.” While that statement made us skeptics, the collection of tastings compiled for the evening would prove otherwise.

Served on heavy cheese boards provided by Brooklyn Slate Company of Gowanus, the small gathering would be served nine different cheeses, before capping off the conversation with a savory chocolate chip cookie from City Bakery. With cheeses hailing no further west than Wisconsin and some as local as upstate New York, each one was distinctive and paired differently with the glasses of sauvignon blanc that we were imbibing. Along the way we discussed the length of time that most cheeses would remain fresh (optimally 5-7 days), how to keep them preserved (wrapped and stored in butcher paper, as plastic wrap suffocates the cheeses), and how affineurs work to age the different cheeses, among other topics. Johnson also took the time to interact with each patron, discussing the likes and dislikes of each cheese and the flavor they brought about. Interestingly enough, we found that the female tasters preferred a diversity of flavors within each cheese, while men described characteristics based on the impact of their palettes.

Of the nine different varieties, we thoroughly enjoyed the “Pleasant Ridge Reserve,” a clean, crunchy, soft cheese from Wisconsin, with a dominant roasted nut flavor on the back end, (also an American Cheese Society Best in Show award winner in 3 of the last 10 years), “Oma,” from the Von Trapp Dairy and then aged at Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farms- a buttery, grassy, delectably light cheese made from cow’s milk, the “Cabot Clothbound Cheddar,” which served as the night’s mystery flavor- a cow’s milk cheese, not sealed in plastic, making it so different from other American cheddars and described as “Switzerland meets England,” and finally the “Sushan Snow,” the local product of upstate New York, soft and creamy, made from sheep’s milk. The sweet, fattier, buttery cheese, described as slightly “woolly,” like the aforementioned favorites can all be found within the Manhattan and Brooklyn city limits.

“The Joy of Cheese” is organized by a genuinely passionate lover of cheese, who not only delivers the final product but also supplies an educational narrative of getting there. Early on Johnson was enraptured by the process, fascinated that “something that began with something poured out of a carton into coffee, could develop into such a wide variety of things.” “The Joy of Cheese” holds monthly tastings at The Clerkenwell, Culturefix, d.b.a Brooklyn, and at the 92nd Street Y, and for a full list of upcoming events, as well as learning about how to hold a tasting event in your very own home, check out “The Joy of Cheese.” Says Johnson, “at some level, you don’t choose cheese- cheese chooses you.”

- Jane Van Arsdale

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