Meet Your Monger: Chris
It’s time for another edition of Meet Your Monger! We stand behind the counter, asking you to try this and that, but who are we really?? I, Kiri, pose questions to the crew here at the Cheese Shop and see what they have to say. This week: Chris, cheesemonger extraordinaire, wearer of sweet baseball hats, beer buyer for the stars aka The Cheese Shop, and voted most likely to describe food in a way that makes you drool.
What draws you to cheese? How did you get into the cheese business?
I’d done a lot of things in the food service industry and I was looking for something different. Cheese was one of those areas that I really hadn’t dabbled in yet, but it was something I always really enjoyed, so it seemed like the next stepping stone. Definitely fatigue from restaurants, too. Also, in a shop like this, talking with guests and interact[ing] with people [develops] a really good skill. I think it’s helped me a lot just in everyday life.
I remember when you just started working here you were like, “I have to remember how to talk to people again.”
Yeah, I had been in a meat locker essentially for six months, not talking to anybody. Without windows. So it was like definitely an adjustment. (We both laugh.)
You went to culinary school, how was that? Does that training help you in the day-to-day at the cheese shop?
Oh definitely. At culinary school we get trained in all facets of the food industry so you learn all of your cooking skills, but also there’s a lot of hospitality training. We get a lot of schooling on buying and pricing, all the financial stuff, too. You’re learning margins and cost of goods and yields and stuff like that.
So when you started doing the beer buying, was that recognizable?
Yeah, for the most part.
In the hospitality training, was that focused on how to talk to customers at a restaurant?
Primarily. But I think talking to customers in a restaurant is the same as talking to customers in a shop like this. Or it should be at any shop. You should be treating the customer as if they are the sole purpose of what you’re doing. You should be interacting with them, engaging with them, but also giving them their space if they want a few minutes, let them breathe, let them find things – always trying to give the guest exactly what they want.
That’s a hard thing to do – the asking a customer if they need help, then leaving alone, and knowing when to go back without being annoying, It’s a tough balance.
One of the things is reading body language because you can almost tell from people’s eyes when they’re ready for you to start helping them. So yeah, that’s an interesting thing.
We do watch customers very carefully.
Yeah, you have to.
Desert island cheese?
I love Adoray (a soft cow’s milk cheese from Canada wrapped in bark). It’s so easy to eat a lot of it. It’s something you can eat on bread, crackers, you can eat it on its own. You can do sweet accompaniments, you can do savory accompaniments. It’s got that meaty note to it, so if you’re stuck on a desert island and you don’t have any more meat, at least you have a meaty cheese. That woodiness, that birch sarsaparilla thing, you could almost pretend you were having a root beer.
Tell me a food memory you have.
Probably one of my fondest [memories] was doing the seven fish dinner on Christmas Eve.
You guys do that? (said with admiration) That’s awesome!
This is where we go all out with the bappita boopities. It’s a tradition my dad grew up doing. His father was first generation Italian-American, and during the war he spent most of his time stationed in Italy and a little bit after, so he was there for quite some time. My grandmother was Irish and German, but she definitely adopted the Italian lifestyle and the Italian style of cooking and she learned all of my grandfather’s mother’s recipes. So those got passed down to me through my dad.
We didn’t hold it too strictly, like we did our own variations of it. Sometimes we’d kind of fake it a little bit to get to the seven fishes, like we’ll count shrimp cocktail as a fish. We’d count raw oysters as a fish (we laugh). We never followed the traditional layout but we always did seven different seafood items.
Are you the one leading the charge on that these days?
Mmm, it’s definitely group effort. Everyone is involved. Because it’s such an ingrained family thing, if my sister’s not involved she’d be upset, if my dad’s not involved he’d be upset. So we all get together and game plan it, then go to the market to get like the fish. Hopefully they have everything we’d planned on in our heads. And if not, we’ll have to figure it out on the fly.
It sounds like a fun family activity.
It is! We’ll maybe cook a little bit of rice and a vegetable but it’s basically just eating a bunch of fish.
Soft cheese or firm cheese?
Since I started working here, I’ve definitely become an alpine (tends to be firm cheese) person. They all seem to tick the flavor boxes for the most part. [They] can be funky, they can be sweet, they can be sharp, they can be salty, they can be nutty. They do it all. And they’re great on their own, they’re great for cooking. I feel like we have such a cool array of alpines, it’s always easy to find something delicious.
Are there any food adventures you’d like to go on or countries you’d like to visit for the food?
A few. Germany for beer and charcuterie. I’d like to go in the spring when it’s really pretty. I need to make it to France eventually. You get so much in a small country. In the south of France, you get this sprawling Mediterranean coastline, and then up towards the English Channel, you have these rolling hills, you have cliffs. And then the Alps. There’s just so much packed into not a huge area. I feel like each region of France has a unique culture behind it.
Do you have any specific food adventures?
I know this is completely on the opposite side of what I was talking about, but I’d love to visit Japan. I want to go into one of those hole in the wall ramen shops, you know, where it’s basically just like a counter with a person cooking ramen and like four benches, and just have a tall glass of beer and eat the best ramen ever. And I want it to be at like 3am.
You like cars and driving, what is the perfect cheese to take with you on a long, leisurely drive?
A road trip kind of cheese?
Yeah, you’re not in a rush, it’s a beautiful day.
The young Tarentaise. It’ll hold up in the car, you can have a cube and it won’t make a mess. It’s not going to make your hands greasy, it’s not going to crumble everywhere. The flavor profile is kind of sweet and nutty with a little spiciness on the finish. It’s robust enough to be interesting, but gentle enough where you can almost mindlessly snack on it.
What is a cheese that you love that should be getting more attention?
Mountaineer. It’s from Meadow Creek Dairy in Virginia and it’s got this super European flavor profile. It reminds me of a young Comté. It’s got this sweet cream note and this really nice zesty earthy rind. It just pairs so well with mustard or honey. It’s one of those cheeses that’s really delicate so you have to go in knowing it’s delicate, and I think sometimes people are looking for that wow, first bite kind of knock you off your feet, as opposed to this one which is a slow burn. It’s gentle. It’s mild but still very flavorful.