Friday, May 31, 2013

GetCulture Inc. Opens in Madison

If you're an at-home or beginning cheesemaker, I have excellent news to share. Madison's long-time cheese culture supplier, Dairy Connection, is opening a retail store today on the east side and will sell small amounts of rennet, cultures, cheese forms and all cheesemaking supplies to the public.

Located at 501 Tasman Street in Madison, GetCulture Inc. is connected to the main Dairy Connection building. It's a cute little shop with lots of awesome stuff for cheese geeks. Dozens of small, hard-to-find plastic cheese forms line one wall, along with stainless steel pots and pans, cheese cloths, and a whole cooler full of microbial, vegetarian and veal rennet. A nice supply of cultures - including those for yogurt, kefir and most any kind of cheese, are also available in small, easy-to-use and experiment-friendly sizes. It's like the dream shopping experience for a hobby or beginning cheesemaker.

The grand opening is today and tomorrow, May 31 & June 1, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Lots of door prizes - including two tickets to the August 3 American Cheese Society Festival of Cheese in Madison - are up for grabs. You'll also get to meet store co-managers, Katie Potter and Valerie Tobias, both experts in cheesemaking supplies.

If you can't make it to the open house, no worries! GetCulture Inc also has a website at www.getculture.com, where they sell everything online. Lipase? Check. Coagulants and rennet? Check. Fermented cheese cultures? Check.

"We're excited and a little nervous to see how the new store does," Valerie says. "We're off the beaten path, but people have already been finding us, plus we have an online store, so customers should find everything they need."

The GetCulture Inc store is a long-planned offshoot of Madison's renowned Dairy Connection, launched in 1999 by Dave and Cathy Potter. For nearly 15 years, the business has supplied ingredients to some of America's best-known cheesemakers, specializing in serving artisan and specialty cheese companies.

In fact, more than two-thirds of all awards handed out to American cheesemakers at the 2011 American Cheese Society annual competition went to companies that count on Dairy Connection for their supplies. That's a pretty good track record!

Congratulations to everyone at Dairy Connection on your new venture. I know I'm happy to have a great place to recommend supplies for small and beginning cheesemakers.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Becoming a Cheesemonger

As my inbox and voicemail boxes begin to reach maximum capacity of unanswered messages, I thought perhaps I'd better explain why it may appear the Cheese Underground Lady has fallen off the face of the earth. No worries, I'm still here. These days, I'm just working under a pile of cheese wearing a name tag that says: "Jeanne C: 1st Year of Service".

That's because, in an attempt to gain the 2,000 hours of paid work experience I need to qualify for and then take the ACS Certified Cheese Professional Exam (the only exam of its kind offering professionals in the cheese industry the opportunity to earn the distinguished title of ACS Certified Cheese Professional), I've started working three days a week behind the cheese counter at Metcalfe's Market, a family-owned group of specialty grocery stores in southern Wisconsin.

The upside: I get to open, cut, wrap and talk about 500 different cheeses with hundreds of customers a day, giving me WAY more respect for every cheesemonger whose job I thought I knew. My co-workers think I've lost my mind when the overhead announcement stating a pallet of cheese has arrived results in me jumping up and down like a kid on Christmas morning with a pile of presents under the tree.

The downside: I may be reaching the upper age limit of being able to to stand, bend, reach, pull, push and heave wheels of cheese all day, so it's a good thing I'm doing this before I get any older. Let's just say that at the end of each shift, ibuprofen is my friend. Oh, and I've lost 30 pounds since I started. Booyah!

Back in January, I began a crash course with an amazing team of co-workers, learning the ropes on how to stock, face, cut and wrap cheese. Nearly five months later, I feel like I've hit my groove, and can adequately answer almost any question a customer throws at me. I also know where the secret stash of super cool demo baskets live, have braved both the boiler room to retrieve giant green trash bags, and survived the cavernous underground walk-in cooler in a successful search for lost boxes of fresh sheep's milk cheese.

What's really surprised me, however, is how much I enjoy the customers. Some of my favorites  continue to be the ones who are never really sure what they're looking for. They know they like cheese. They know they once had a cheese they loved. They just can't remember the name of the cheese, or anything about it. Challenge accepted.

Once in awhile, we get lucky and a customer will just mix up a name - such as: "Do you carry Pleasant Valley Gruyere?" Then we guide them to the Wisconsin section and hand them a piece of Pleasant Ridge Reserve with a smile.

The hardest questions are the ones like this: "I'm looking for a cheese that I sampled here a couple of weeks ago. It was white. I remember it being salty." Then the guessing game begins. More often than not, we're actually able to discern what we think the customer tasted and they leave a happy camper. To date, I've never had a customer get angry with me. I've come to the conclusion that cheese just naturally makes people happy.

Working with cheese - actually handling it day in and day out - is a much different beast than writing or talking about it, which I've done for most of the past 10 years. Thank you to the crew at Metcalfe's for putting up with me, and I look forward to the next two years (or more!) together. Who knows, I may never leave. :)