What are the cheese pros excited about right now? Like wine, the world of cheese is vast and diverse—potentially overwhelming, but rewarding to explore. No one is happier to guide you than your neighborhood cheesemongers. You should talk to them! In "Cheese Talk," we introduce you to a top cheesemonger and ask them for three cheeses to look for this month, as well as what wines or other beverages to pair with them.
Eric Schack oversees one of the busiest cheese counters in the country at Eataly NYC Downtown in New York’s Financial District. He’s come a long way from the small cheese shop in Chicago where he took a “day job” before planning to attend graduate school. “I got into cheese kind of by mistake,” laughs Schack. “I went to art school.” But fate and cheese had other plans.
“I fell in love with the topic of cheese, researching it, getting into it more and more.” A few cheese and wine shop jobs later, he started his own business catering wine-and-cheese parties and seminars. In 2013, he helped open Eataly’s Chicago location.
“One of the things that drew me to Eataly was the chance to work with Greg Blais [formerly of Dean & Deluca, Bedford Cheese Shop, Essex Street Cheese Co. and host of the Cutting the Curd podcast] … on top of that, Italian cheese for a long time had been kind of a blind spot for cheesemongers, so the opportunity to work firsthand with such a large collection of Italian cheeses [sealed the deal].” In 2016, Schack moved to New York to open the cheese and cured meat operations at Eataly NYC Downtown.
As Eataly's lead artisan of salumi and formaggi, Schack is responsible for maintaining the store's rotating selection of about 250 cheeses (more than 1,000 will be offered over the course of a year). While 60 to 70 percent of the selections are Italian, "it wouldn't be very Italian of us if we didn't also feature local foods. The rest of our cheeses are exclusively artisanal domestic."
There's meat, too, of course, with more than 100 salumis, including 15 different types of prosciutto. In an average week, Schack goes through about 5,000 pounds of cheese and salumi, including four 90-pound wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano, which typically arrive at the end of the week. "My arms ache every Friday," says Schack who, despite the heavy load, was able to carve out enough time this past summer to participate in (and win) the Cheesemonger Invitational, a national competition of cheese knowledge, pairing and service skills.
Eataly NYC Downtown
4 World Trade Center
101 Liberty St., 3rd floor, New York
Region: Greensboro Bend, Vt.
Age: 10 to 12 months
Price: $29 per pound
Eric says: This is a cheese that is a collaboration between the Cellars at Jasper Hill up in Greensboro, Vt., and Anne Saxelby, who runs Saxelby Cheesemongers. Anne had said she wanted to help develop a cheese which [employs] a practice from the Old World, where the cheese rind is prepared with grass or hay from where the cows graze. To create Calderwood, the cheesemakers at Jasper Hill use select wheels of their Alpha Tolman cheese. Yet while the Tolman is still young, they cover the outside with a special dried-grass mulch and vacuum-seal it. Cryovac’ing the cheese pushes the grass into the rind, binding them together to age further in Jasper Hill’s caves. When finished, it’s a completely different cheese [from Alpha Tolman] altogether, and you eat the rind as well. It’s a fantastic experience. With the grass on the outside, the cheese has a better representation of the terroir, if you will, of Greensboro, Vt. You’re immediately transported to the fields surrounding Jasper Hill—you’re eating the literal grass, with the milk that came from that very grass.
Eric's recommended pairing: Although it's a bit late for Oktoberfest, I recently enjoyed Calderwood paired with Left Hand Brewing's Oktoberfest Marzen—fantastic together. My go-to pairing is Shacksbury Cider's Arlo, whose spirited acidity brings a new layer to Calderwood's dried-grass rind.
Wine Spectator picks: Jasper Hill's alpine-style Alpha Tolman is modeled after Appenzeller, the fruity, nutty cheese from northeastern Switzerland. Many of the dry white wines from Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France's Alsace region will complement Calderwood, especially wines with minerally and nutty or grassy elements. Look for wines from Alsace like Trimbach Pinot Blanc Alsace 2016 (89 points, $18, 12,000 cases made), Dr. Loosen Riesling Kabinett Mosel Blue Slate 2016 (89, $22, 8,000 cases imported) from Germany, or Forstreiter Grüner Veltliner Niederösterreich Grooner 2016 (90, $12, 3,500 cases imported) from Austria.
Category: Natural rind
Region: Abruzzo, Italy
Age: 1 to 2 years
Price: $41 per pound
Eric says: One importer that we work with quite closely at Eataly is Marcelli Formaggi, and one of their cheeses which is a favorite of mine is the Pecorino Brigantaccio. It’s a fantastic Pecorino that is covered with rye bran, and it’s a really great representation of that same practice utilized on the rind of the Calderwood. The name “Brigantaccio” is an ode to the brigands, a group of people [editor's note: literally gangs of highway robbers] that existed in Italy, and the brigands used to hide their cheeses. They would bury them, to hide them from each other, or from the tax man, so to speak, but you wouldn’t necessarily want a cheese that was covered in dirt, so they would cover it in grass or bran and then seal it in a pot, which they would put a [lit] candle in … to create a vacuum. A year or two later, they would be like “Hey, Giuseppe, didn’t we bury some cheese around here somewhere?” And they would dig up this pot and break it open, and they found that the cheese was not only beautifully preserved but that it tasted much, much better than it had previously.
This is a true raw sheep's milk–lover's cheese; the dry paste explodes in your mouth with the scents of fluffy wet wool, warmed tallow and the strong but balanced flavor of an Abruzzo barnyard.
Eric's recommended pairing: I love this cheese at a table of small bites, like some lamb arrosticini and a few smoked almonds. These and a bright watermelon-forward bottle of Campirosa [rosé] make for a simple meal that's full in flavor.
Wine Spectator picks: This unique cheese of Abruzzo is a natural match with the local Montepulciano d'Abruzzo reds. Look for Masciarelli Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2015 (87, $14, 39,600 cases imported) and Farnese Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Fantini 2016 (88, $16, 250,000 cases made).
Category: Bark-wrapped, washed rind
Region: Dodgeville, Wisc.
Age: 2 months
Price: $26 each
Eric says: There are a lot of amazing washed-rind, spruce-bandaged cheeses that come out this time of year. (For more on bark-wrapped cheeses, see “Bark-Wrapped Treats: Rare and Delicious,” in the Nov. 15, 2018, issue of Wine Spectator.) The one I always look forward to is called Rush Creek Reserve, which is a fantastic cheese, similar to Mont d’Or or Petit Vacherin. This is made in Dodgeville, Wisc., by Andy Hatch, who runs Uplands Cheese Co., the same maker of the much-celebrated, probably most popular artisanal domestic cheese, Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Spruce bandage imparts a very particular flavor to the cheese itself, which I describe as kind of nutty, but also kind of nutmegy. And the milk is the late-season milk, and that milk has the most robust, unctuous, amazing flavor qualities to it, and that’s why the cheese itself is so rich. It’s intense but never offensive. Peeling back the rind reveals a cheese which is in a permanent liquidlike state, this gooey quality that you can dip a pear into. I can’t think of something more pure but at the same time luxurious.
Eric's recommended pairing: I'm a sucker for Riesling, particularly good Michigan Rieslings. I know I'm biased here, and that those Rieslings are hard to come by outside of the Mitten. This said, Rush Creek loves a solid Riesling, wherever you find one. At the moment, I have a bottle of Teutonic's Riesling, from Willamette Valley, reserved for the first wheel of Rush Creek I bring home this season. Another note: Rush Creek is the perfect way to start a Thanksgiving dinner, and has become a staple of my own.
Wine Spectator picks: Only available for a few months each year, beginning in November, Rush Creek Reserve is an occasion in itself. It's a splurgeworthy cheese that sings with Champagne: With its acidity and effervescence, sparkling wine is an ideal foil for creamy, mouthcoating bark-wrapped cheeses, which are typically luxuriously rich in fat and salt. In the absence of Krug, Dom or Cristal, celebrate Rush Creek season with a domestic sparkler like Argyle Brut Willamette Valley Vintage 2014 (91, $28, 22,000 cases made) from Oregon or Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé Carneros NV (91, $29, 2,000 cases made) from California.