Monday, January 16, 2012

Day 706: Cheese Convo #1 - Doug Ginn

Moving towards the beginning of Fromagical's third year in existence, albeit we aren't there yet, I wanted to introduce a new 2012 tradition of cheese convos. Recaps of one on one conversations I have with cheesemakers, cheesemongers, cheese producers, cheese importers, cheese heads, cheese chefs, you name it, anyone in the business of cheese to give you a window into the inner workings of the cheese industry.

Our first chat was with Doug Ginn, the head cheesemaker/production manager at Beecher's that opened its NYC doors to the public mid 2011. A true proponent of the American artisan cheese movement, he was inspiration and a kindred soul to talk to. Prior to Beecher's Doug worked in cheesemaking operations nation and worldwide but most recently and closest to his heart is the Pampered Cow. The Pampered Cow is part farm, part cheesemaking incubator, part distributor and part Hudson Valley food and cheese promoter. Pampered Cow crafts the fabulous Hudson Red cheese -- a washed rind beauty that walks the most excellent line between "Alsatian Muenster and Taleggio," as Doug states. Looking to be in the city more full time, Doug ended up connecting with Beecher's prior to their opening and the rest is history.

Beecher's is truly unique in New York City in that they are making cheese in the heart of a big city. This is not a practice one finds occurring often here or elsewhere for that manner making it quite the exciting operation.

So how does that work?

Beecher's sources milk from two different farms upstate, one that is strictly Holstein cow's milk and one that is strictly Jersey cow's milk. Currently they receive a delivery of milk every other day as they produce two vats of cheese everyday and each milk delivery produces four vats of cheese. Currently approximately six to seven months into their NYC based cheesemaking operations they are making cheese six days a week which is up from three days when they first started and then consequently five days a week of cheesemaking. To do this, they have a staff of eight cheesemakers, a few of which are hoop breakers. In another year, they plan to be making cheese seven days a week and then half a year afterwards, they plan to be making four vats of cheese daily. After cheese production, the cheeses stay on premises for approximately a week and then they get wrapped and transported to a large refrigerated facility in New Jersey where they will remain for the duration of their aging.

What sort of cheeses are being made at their Flatiron location?

Fresh cheese curds which you can sample when you stop at their retail counter. The other two cheeses--Flagship and Flatiron have not yet been released. Yes, you can purchase their Flagship cheese produced at Beecher's Seattle, but not yet the cheese from Beecher's New York. You won't be able to purchase that till the end of the year because it requires at least eighteen months of aging before sale. In terms of Flatiron, this is a washed rind cheese that the cheesemaking team is still working at perfecting. Check back in three to four months and it should be available for sale.

One thing that really stuck out to me in my conversation with Doug was his passionate and inspiring descriptions about the cheesemaking team. They hail from all walks of life -- some have a lot of cheese experience, some have none, some were chefs, some were cheesemongers, some are just out of college -- the team spans the gamut of experience and expertise. They all share a love and innate curiosity into the business and art of cheesemaking, the key to a successful enterprise. As Doug envisions, the cheesemaking positions will be an excellent way to launch your career; get your feet wet; gain your chops to go open your own farm; a lifelong profession; kind of like a "cheesemaking incubator program."

It was such a treat for me to chat with Doug about where Beecher's has been and where they are going. It sure is an exciting time for them -- rapid expansion, growth, and the true development of their East Coast business through the experience of their Seattle based team and the ingenuity and gumption of their NYC team. They really are at the forefront of their industry when it comes to urban cheesemaking -- bringing back a sense of locavorism to the hustle and bustle of our city.

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