The New Rules of Cheese: A Freewheeling and Informative GuideBy Anne Saxelby Intro: Welcome to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York city sitting at her dining room table talking to cookbook authors.Anne Saxelby: So my name is Anne Saxelby of Saxelby Cheesemongers and I just wrote a book called The New Rules of Cheese, A Freewheeling and Informative Guide that was published by Ten Speed Press.Suzy Chase: Saxelby Cheesemongers is New York City's first all American cheese shop. Daniel Boulud called you the most sophisticated boutique fromagerie or cheesemonger in the United States. Tell me about the American artisan cheese revolution.Anne Saxelby: So the American artisan cheese revolution really started in the seventies with a bunch of really talented enterprising women making goat cheese. There was Laura Chenel in California, Mary Keen, also in California of Cypress Grove Laney Fondiller and Allison Hooper in Vermont and Judy Schad of Capriole Dairy in Indiana. And if I forgot anybody, I'm so sorry, but there were these group of goat ladies, basically, as they would affectionately call themselves and they started making fresh goat cheese which at the time was a very new and novel and probably bizarre thing for people to see in the grocery store and on menus at restaurants, but it was kind of the back to the land movement and also just synchronized nicely with some different things that were going on with fine dining in America. There were some French chefs kind of up and coming and not finding the ingredients that they needed for certain dishes and fresh chevre certainly fit right into that role. So these women started kind of creating these boutique small-scale creameries and really kind of ushered in the whole artisan cheese revolution. Following them in the eighties and nineties, there was a whole wave of different small-scale producers, mostly centered in Vermont and California, a little bit scattered throughout the Midwest, but it seems like the East and West coast were really kind of the first seed beds I would say of the artisan cheese revolution and it's just kind of continued to grow kind of like a mushroom and like an inexplicable, but like awesome way where now there are thousands of different artists and cheese makers across the country in every state making really amazing cow, goat, sheep, even sometimes water buffalo cheeses. And so any kind of Italian mozzarella that's the real deal is made from water buffalo milk, but there, there was a herd of water buffalo in Vermont, and I know that there is still one or two herds of dairy water buffalo in the United States. I think there's one in New Jersey now actually it's called Riverine Ranch and water buffalo milk is just awesome. I think it's very rich and fatty and great makes really flavorful cheese, but I've heard that the water buffalo are a little bit trickier to raise, especially in the colder climates where, where we live. I think they like the warmer environment a little bit betterSuzy Chase: I thought you were going to say well they're all over Paducah or something.Anne Saxelby: I wish.Suzy Chase: So I'd love to hear about your relationship with cheesemakers.Anne Saxelby: I feel like that combined with my love of eating this delicious stuff are the two biggest reasons why I'm in this business. I went to art school in New York City. I went to NYU and studied painting and drawing as an undergrad and when I graduated, I kind of wasn't feeling the art world in a big way. I felt like there was a little bit too much pretense, you know, it was like a highfalutin kind of exclusive club, you know? And I was like, ah, I don't know if I really belong here, but I had no job prospects and so I asked Cato Corner Farm at the green market if I could come and have an internship with them and they were like, yeah, but not until the fall. I had to kind of wait for a little bit to have that opportunity but once I got there, I was just like oh my gosh, I fell in love with not only the cheese making process, but the cheese makers, you know, Mark and Liz who owned Cato Corner. Mark was a former English teacher. Liz was a former social worker and they just wanted to find a way to make a living, having a small farm and making artisan product and cheese was a way for them to do that. And I feel like most of the cheesemakers that we work with have similar stories. She's making this kind of the second career one that was just born out of like a love for art, for food, for community, for sustainable agriculture so I feel like the people to me are just as interesting as the cheeses they make. Having those relationships, those close relationships with our producers is a big motivating part of what makes having Saxelby Cheesemongers so fun.Suzy Chase: At Cato Corner, you wrote in the book, that's where you realize that cheese making was a lot like art.Anne Saxelby: Yes, cheese making is a lot like making art, except it's not quite as, I guess neither one is quite as romantic as people kind of imagine cause if you're really doing something day in and day out every day, you know, it's really hard work but for me, the thing about cheesemaking was that starting with a blank canvas and winding up with a painting or starting with raw milk and ending up with a wheel of cheese was a very similar process. You had to have a good technique and be consistent and apply all of your skills only with cheese. There was no room for BS, which was the thing that kind of bothered me about the art world, because I feel like a lot of contemporary art, you can look at it and you're like, huh, I don't know it looks like a banana duct tape to a wall to me. I don't know if that's really, that's really art or not.Suzy Chase: Or it's like I could have done that.Anne Saxelby: Yeah, exactly.Anne Saxelby: You know, and I was like, is it brilliant Or are you just pulling the wool over on us, but with cheese that doesn't happen. You know, if you don't follow all the steps, if you don't apply this real rigor, that's both science and art you're not going to end up with something delicious. And so there was something about that kind of authenticity of cheesemaking that really spoke to me. I was like, okay, here's this edible art form and it makes people happy so it's just kind of a, win-win win.Suzy Chase: Murray's, Citarella and Whole Foods has enormous cheese cases from cheese from around the world. But I love that you're focused on building a small case featuring American cheese. Can you talk a little bit about that?Anne Saxelby: Sure. So before I opened my shop, I actually went to Europe for a little while to learn more about cheesemaking and wine making. I figured it was kind of like my last to like travel and learn all this stuff before I hunkered down and started my own business. But I also felt like it was important to just learn as much of the background of not only the making of these products, but kind of the selling and aging and, and all of that. So when I was traveling in France and Italy, I was kind of spying on different businesses of all types and trying to take inspiration from ones that I thought were doing things well. And when I was in France, the thing that really inspired me about all the cheese shops, there was their kind of laser focus and attention to detail and a cheese shop in France you're not going to find anything other than cheese. I feel like if you go to a cheese shop in the States, you know, it's usually a little bit of cheese, charcuterie, crackers, olive oil, vinegar, chocolate, all these kinds of other gourmet kind of specialty items. And then also oftentimes also a lot of prepared foods, whether it's sandwiches or salads or things like that. And it's a cultural thing. And there's a reason that laser-focused cheese shops work in France because people have this kind of built in appreciation that's just in their blood, literally through the millennia but that kind of simplicity of just focusing intensely on, on one idea, I found really like exciting and something that I wanted to emulate. So when I opened my own business, I really wanted to just focus in on cheese in particular. And then because of the tiny, tiny little space I found to open my first store, which was on the Lower East Side in Essex Market I literally had a hundred square feet and half of it was a refrigerator and I was like, all right, well, I literally have three feet of cheese case to merchandise cheese and so I'm going to take a gamble and just work with the American artisans that I love and see what comes of it. And luckily people have been into it.Suzy Chase: So your cheese case dictated what you were going to have?Anne Saxelby: Yeah. So I was thinking about the store and I always wanted to have a focus on American, but then once I saw the actual size, I was like, well, you know what, I'm going to do all American because there's not room to do anything else there because that's what I really want to do anyway. So let's, let's just go for it.Suzy Chase: So now you're at Chelsea Market downstairs and cheese has become the lens through which you see the world where you share what you know, and help others, now to help us you kicked off this book with the rules, for the cheese counter of which you have 12 talk a little bit about these rules and why we need them.Anne Saxelby: I was just trying to kind of demystify the cheese shopping process because I feel like shopping for cheese, if you're not like already a cheese nerd can seem a little intimidating so that's really what I wanted to get at with the first 12 rules, like support your local cheese shop. I think it's so important for people to kind of seek out a small independent retailer, if they're lucky enough to have one in their area or a farmer's market, just because those are the people who are super passionate, who are really going to be knowing the details behind the products that they're selling and supporting small business I feel like now more than ever is just so important. And then I talk about learning what the five basic styles of cheese are because when you go to a cheese counter and you see a hundred or 200 or however many different kinds of cheese, you're like, oh my God, how could I ever choose? But all cheese basically fits into like five basic categories, which are fresh, bloomy rind, natural rind, washed rind, and blue. And if you can kind of just know those basic types, you can start to identify what you like a lot easier.Suzy Chase: So I bought the five styles of cheese last weekend at your shop and okay, so number one was fresh and I got the Narragansett Mozzarella. What's fresh?Anne Saxelby: So fresh cheeses to me are cheeses that don't have a rind they're very young, they're very simple to make and they tend to be really mild in flavor. So mozzarella, fresh goat, cheese, ricotta, queso blanco, queso fresco, those to me are fresh cheeses, and they're great to start a cheese plate with because they're really light and mellow, and then you can kind of progress towards stronger flavors. They're also great to cook with. So they're great to have around because if you're using them on a cheese plate, great, but you can also put them in a salad or on a pizza or in an omelet. And so it's a really nice thing to have in your kitchen.Suzy Chase: The next is bloomy rind and I got the Kunik, is that how you pronounce it? Mini?Anne Saxelby: Yes, the dream boat bloomy rind cheese. So bloomy rind cheeses to me are cheeses that have a rind that looks like brie. So they're kind of covered by like a white fuzzy mold. And they're called bloomy rind because this white fuzzy mold literally blooms on the outside of the cheese as it ages and forms this beautiful and kind of protective rind around the cheese. So these cheeses tend to be a little bit softer, a little bit gooier, more buttery and can have kind of a mushroom flavor as well due to that bloom on the rind and the Kunik is one of my all time favorites. It's a triple cream goat, cow blend. I always tell customers behind the counter, it's kind of as close as you can get to eating goat milk ice cream without actually going there.Suzy Chase: The next one I got was natural rind, and that was the Jersey Girl Woodcock Farm.Speaker 3: And I feel like the category natural rind is cheating a little bit, cause it's lumping like so many different kinds of cheese into one group. But to me, a natural rind cheese is anything like the Jersey Girl that has kind of a natural from earthy crust or rind on the outside and that rind forms in the cave, they don't do anything special to the cheeses as it's aging to kind of influence the bacteria and the mold one way or another. They might brush the cheese and flip the cheese as it's aging, but these natural rind cheeses, they tend to be a little bit more aged maybe between, I would say like three and gosh, upwards of like two years old and they can have more intense flavors like that Jersey Girl that you got is like buttery and a little bit sharp and also kind of just earthy and beautiful and I think it's nice to have one of those on a cheese plate that's just a little bit more rustic, a little bit more aged, a little bit more intense.Suzy Chase: The next one I got was a washed rind, the Lazy Lady Farm Two Lips.Anne Saxelby: Yeah. Two Lips from Lazy Lady. So that actually, I don't know if you saw the goat on the label, but Lazy Lady is probably one of our most politically active cheese makers. She says one goat, one vote when we were talking about the election, she was talking about marching, her goats actually down to her local polling place, which would have been amazing if she actually did it. So it's a washed rind cheese, it's washed with a salt brine as it ages and so what that washing process does is that it encourages this kind of reddish orange bacteria to form on the rind and that's what gives washed rind cheeses their signature, pungent smell and pungent quality. And so washed rind cheeses tend to be pungent intense and it's always lovely to have something that's like a little bit funky to push the boundaries.Suzy Chase: The last one is blue and I got the Bayley Hazen Blue from Jasper Hill Farm.Anne Saxelby: Oh yeah. Bailey Hazan is such a classic. That's like my go-to blue whenever I need something to snack on the, at the cave or at the shop. And so blue cheeses are very easy to recognize, of course, because they've got those beautiful blue veins running through them. The mold is not injected into the cheese as many people think, but it's actually activated by oxygen. So this blue mold is put into the milk during the cheese-making process and then about a week or so after the wheels of cheese are made, the cheese maker will come and poke holes in the wheel and anywhere they poke a hole, a vein of blue will grow. And if they're extra kind of like nooks and crannies and the interior of the cheese that oxygen will find its way all in and the mold will kind of spread all throughout the middle of the cheese. And so an important thing to know about blue cheese is that they're not all created equal. Some blue cheeses are super strong and super intense and other blue cheeses are like very creamy and mild and just really kind of luscious and decadent like there's Gorgonzola Cremificato, which is a great Italian blue that's very mild and sweet and there's Cambozola, which has literally combination of Camembert and Gorgonzola and that's another very mild blue. So even if people think they're afraid of blue, I would recommend that they try some just to see, cause there's kind of a full spectrum of delicious flavor to discover there.Suzy Chase: Okay. To eat the rind or not eat the rind. That is the question.Anne Saxelby: Oh, for me, I always eat the rind. Well, unless it's wax cloth or bark, I always try it. Unless it is those three things, it is edible. It's just up to you whether or not you like the taste. So soft cheeses like Kunik, I would not miss that rind for anything. Firmer cheeses like Jersey Girl, I might nibble a little bit of the rind, but maybe it's going to be a little bit earthy and a little bit intense, but I always do try it cause I feel like it can sometimes add really delicious flavors.Suzy Chase: So I guess for the holidays, if we want to make kind of a basic cheeseboard, we should do the five basic styles of cheese?Anne Saxelby: I think that's a great place to start. Yeah. Because then you can get all of kind of these different textures, styles, flavors represented, and it's going to really give you a whole nice spectrum of cheeses and flavors to work with.Suzy Chase: So quickly tell us about your theme to cheese boards. I love this.Anne Saxelby: I was just saying there are a million different ways that you could take it when you're making a cheeseboard, like choose a country you can do an Italian, a French, a Spanish or an all American, or if you wanted to get more specific, you could even do an all Vermont or all Wisconsin or all California cheese plate. You can also do like a tour of the barnyard and pick different cheeses from all the different milk sources. You could also be really silly and do like an 80's theme cheese plate include some, I don't know, weird cheese in a can or no, I wouldn't really do that, but you know what I mean?Suzy Chase: A cheese ball!Anne Saxelby: Yeah, exactly. A cheese ball covered with nuts but I mean, there are a million different ways you could take it and I feel like that's what makes eating cheese fu.Suzy Chase: Okay. So you wrote in the book, cheddar is a noun and a verb.Anne Saxelby: That is true. So cheddar is a style of cheese, but it is also what is done to the curds during the cheese-making process that makes cheddar unique from all other cheeses.Suzy Chase: Now to my segment called Last Night's Dinner where I asked you what you had last night for dinner.Anne Saxelby: Oh my gosh strangely it involves zero dairy. That is very unusual. Actually, so I sell cheese, my husband sells meat, so we're, we've got a pretty like dairy and meat, protein, heavy diet going on. But last night we had shrimp tacos actually.Suzy Chase: Oh, did you make them?Anne Saxelby: I did. Yeah. I feel like during the pandemic we discovered the frozen food section of the supermarket more than we ever had before. And so now I always keep frozen shrimp and my freezer and frozen dumplings because those are great in a pinch. And so yeah I just did the shrimp real quick with some, with some garlic and lemon and you know, cooked some beans and made some pickled red onions and we just threw it all together.Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web, social media and in New York City?Anne Saxelby: So on the web SaxelbyCheese.com and we do sell copies of the book online. I will sign the books and send them out if you order them from our website and we also ship cheese nationwide. On Instagram and Twitter, we're at Saxelby Cheese. And in the real world, we are in the Chelsea Market, which is on 9th Avenue, kind of between 9th and 10th Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets it's a great market.Suzy Chase: You can find me there downstairs too!! It's my favorite place. I'm telling you this book is a wonderful holiday gift that everyone has to get. And thank you Anne so much for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.Anne Saxelby: Thank you so much for having me. It was such a pleasure.Outro: Subscribe over on CookerybytheBook.com. And thanks for listening to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book.