We Made The New York Times

Back in 2011, I wrote my first post about Mike Geno, an artist in my neighborhood who wanted to paint cheese. I agreed to introduce him to some glorious wedges, and since then we have spent many afternoons “cheese browsing” at local shops around Philadelphia. We even co-hosted a private show and tasting for readers of this blog. Perhaps you were you there, nibbling a morsel of Hummingbird?

Fast forward to this week: our collaboration made it into Wednesday’s New York Times. The story, by Jeff Gordinier, is fantastic — he captures Mike’s work perfectly and details our cheese walks through the city, which often end at Di Bruno Bros. He also quotes Yours Truly, my proudest moment. Oh, glee!

“His paintings are seductions,” said Tenaya Darlington, 40, who blogs about cheese under the moniker Madame Fromage. “They make me want to reach out with a hunk of baguette and swipe the paint right off the canvas.”

Check out the all-cheese slide show of Mike’s work on The Times web site. As you’ll see, they are smashing and so enticing. When you look at them, you want to lick them. Or at least, you want to run to the nearest cheese counter and try something new, like a gooey spoonful of Strathdon Blue.

If you’re curious to follow this story, visit the recent post about Mike’s work on Bigthink.com. Blogger Bob Duggan puts Mike’s work into context:

When you look at a cheese, you see food—the stuff of life—decaying or gravitating to the stuff of death, and, yet, in another paradox, we can eat this “death” to sustain our life. I don’t know if these ideas come into Geno’s head when he’s painting them hungrily, but I think that they’re a valid, modern interpretation of an old genre updated for the age and land of Whole Foods and Epicurious.

— Bob Duggan, Bigthink.com

As you might imagine, Mike Geno has sold every painting in his studio. He is taking orders. Starving artists, take note. Paint cheese.

In Search of Camel Cheese

Dear Readers,

Tonight I am off to Doha in search of something elusive. Doha? It’s the capital of Qatar — a comma of a country in the Middle East — where the first TEDxSummit will take place, and yours truly has wangled a seat. For this honor, I have Cheddar to thank. Earlier this year, I passed out 260 cubes of Mary Quickes Traditional Cheddar to an unsuspecting crowd at Chedd-X, my TED talk on the Saint Joseph’s University campus. I like to think this was the first-ever TED tasting, and, darlings, I hope it won’t be the last.

As you can see, I am packing an excellent disguise. Those Islamic socks, once a gag gift from a friend, are suddenly looking very necessary. In Qatar, dames don’t show knees, or shoulders for that matter, unless you want to be treated “like Mae West,” as I was told by a former correspondent for the Washington Post. Being a fan of Mae West, I have mixed feelings about this.

Nonetheless, I have a rather singular goal in Qatar. I want to try some camel cheese, or at the very least, some camel’s milk.

Camel's Milk, photo by Sebastian Lindstrom

A Camel’s Milk Search Team has been assembled. In a bit of star-crossed synchronicity, a reader (yes, one of you) who is filming a documentary on camel’s milk happens to be part of the TEDxSummit film crew. Sebastian Lindstrom, do give us a shout out!

One day, I dream of having you all over for a camel’s milk tasting. In the style of Mae West, it will be a rather rowdy affair (a camel’s milk vaudeville show?). To prepare, here is your amuse-bouche:

Behind the Scenes at 9th Street

Last week’s highlight: a tour of Di Bruno Bros. on 9th Street with my friend Mike Geno. Here he is looking in the window of this Italian Market shop. His quest? To find new cheeses to paint. My quest: to climb out on the roof for some high-noon sun. We did just that with cheesemonger Ezekial Ferguson. After years of lurking in this old world cheese establishment, I finally got to see the cheese cave, folks. Well, it’s a walk-in. But the cellar and the old safe held some surprises. For a peak, click here.

For a glimpse of Mike’s cheese portraits, head to Wedge and Fig in Old City, where his show has been extended through April.

Cheese Book News

These days, my life looks a lot like this: I am sniffing cheese, taking notes, and transcribing them at all hours of the night. I am writing a book. At last, I can share the news (and apologize for long lapses between posts). The contract is finally signed.

A year from now, hopefully you will hold a copy of the Di Bruno Bros. Cheese Guide in your hot little hands. Oh, the title may change, but the concept will be the same: a DIY guide to sharing and pairing fromage. After reading dozens of cheese books since I started this blog in 2009, I came to one conclusion: someone needs to sit down and write Philadelphia’s first fun, approachable cheese guide. I decided to take on the job myself.

So last summer, I wrote a proposal and shopped it around. Running Press sniffed and bit. I was impressed by their catalogue, which includes Georges Perrier’s cookbook and The Great Big Cheese Cookbook. They’re also the publisher for mon amie, Marisa McCllellan, whose book Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, should be out in a blink.

The fun part about this project is working with the cheesemongers of Di Bruno Bros. When I’m not teaching or writing, I’m in the Italian Market or on Chestnut Street, tasting and talking to some of the best guys in the business. Together, we’re putting together all of our tasting notes, recipes, pairing ideas, and serving tips.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be taking you behind the scenes as I test recipes, research 170 cheeses, and write 65,000 words, all before July 1. It will be a white-knuckled affair. I hope you’ll brace yourself. I have on my speed racing helmet for sure.

If I am slow to answer email, if my posts are brief…please forgive me. I will be using all of my reserves and every last nerve to make this book happen on time. I will be stretching myself very thin, as thin as mozzarella curd, but of course I will be loving every minute of it, too. I’m honored to work with the folks at Di Bruno Bros., my home away from home, and I’m excited to share more cheese ideas with you — not just online but in print. Air kiss, air kiss.

After Hours at Di Bruno Bros.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to stick around Di Bruno Bros. on 9th Street for an after hours party. It’s what the store likes to call “a private shopping experience” – a chance for customers to linger around the olive bins, eating pairings that cheesemongers dream up.

There were rolls of Kobe roast beef wrapped around truffle cream, followed by artisan goat cheese drizzled with chestnut honey. Along the way, guests nibbled antipasti while a pair of cheesemongers whipped up salami ravioli and sliced into their favorite off-the-menu sandwich – a hoagie that cures for three days in the fridge.

Here’s why this was such an amazing night: it was a chance to graze around the store, tasting things I usually overlook. And it was a chance for Rocco Rainone and Zeke Ferguson, two cheesemongers who love to cook, to show off what they call “snacks from the mind’s mouth.”  To continue reading, please click here.

Disclosure: This post is part of a bimonthly series I write for Di Bruno Bros. This local retailer pays me to write posts for their blog, and I pop a teaser onto my own blog. This is how I pay for my excessive dairy habits.