I’ve always been a cheese-head. In college, I brought home a ripe epoisses and unthinkingly popped it into the fridge I shared with 4 suite mates. 2 days later, they all threatened mutiny if I didn’t get rid of it, so we gave it a farewell party, with some grapes and crackers. To be fair, even though they did compare the smell to a dead man’s feet, they loved the cheese. And they’re still close friends, which says a lot for their tolerance.
Years later I worked as a cheesemonger at Barnyard Cheese Shop – if you haven’t been by, check it out. Awesome sandwiches, cured meats and so on. Now that I’m writing, I sometimes look a bit wistfully behind the cheese counter when I go in for a bit of goat cheese. So when I hear about cheese-addled chefs that I can geek out over, I feel like I’ve won the lottery.
In Alto Adige, Hansi Baumgartner went from a career as a prominent local chef to opening his own cheese shop Degust, with his lovely wife. It being Alto Adige, where they did a sort of square dance with the borders over the years, German and Italian are both spoken, and so while his wife, who has opened the cheese shop with him speaks Italian, he speaks a sort of charming version of German, with a soft accent. They apparently own a bunker, which they use as a cheese-aging cave (how cool is that?). Anyway, they were distraught by the lack of local cheese-makers, and so when they started out, they sought out cheese made in the immediate area, helping spark a bit of a renaissance of locally made cheese, and tapping into a cheese-loving market of locals and tourists. What really takes their cheese over the edge is the creative chefly way they approach the role of the affineur. Take a cocoa bean-crusted cheese they make. Or one aged in local hay (for some reason Alto Adigeans go gaga over hay…it’s a thing…don’t dig too deep on that one). Anyway, it was a thrill to get to interview Baumgartner, via a lot of stilted Italian emails on my part, and a lot of patience on his. If you’re in Alto Adige, get to the Degust cheese shop, pronto.