We love teaching our customers about cheese. We love teaching them about wine. About jams and honeys. About our charcuterie. Really, about any kind of food! As a result, it seemed like a no-brainer for us to begin offering tasting classes on Sundays (and occasionally on Wednesday and Saturday nights), giving our customers a more in-depth look at how cheese is made and who is making it.
Thrilled by the positive feedback we had from folks who were keen to learn more about cheese and about food in general, we have been steadily expanding our course offerings. In addition to the ever-popular Cheese 101, we now have a vast array of classes focusing on topics such as Piedmontese wines, American beers, pizza-making or barbecuing! After folks take Cheese 101, they often return for more specialized cheese classes, such as the one we had on Alpine cheeses or one that focused predominantly on blue cheeses.
The response to the expanded class slate has been fantastic and we are trying to keep up with demand. Aware that the space in our shop offers certain limitations, we have been developing a purpose-built classroom space in a nearby location. The first class to be held in this new space is scheduled for October. We will gradually ramp up our offerings in the new facility which we hope will allow us to offer an even wider selection of classes, in addition to providing a space more tailored for teaching and learning.
Preparation for a Sunday class usually begins at about 2:30 – 3pm in the afternoon. The cheesemongers or chefs who are going to be teaching come into the shop and begin cooking, plating and assembling everything that will be tasted that evening. Beer and wine are put in the walk-in to chill as needed, the cheese is cut and plated and the menu for the evening is typed and printed.
There are often a few last-minute discussions and consultations about pairings, for example – do you think this jam goes well with that cheese? Are we happy putting this cheese with that beer? Listening to my colleagues make these decisions, it is clear how much they care about what they do and how they introduce our customers to the cheeses, beers, wines and foods that they love. I remember one discussion about pairing Liddabit caramels with Ardrahan, an Irish cheese. Thinking outside the box, one monger proposed it… A couple of other mongers tried the combo and heartily approved but questioned whether folks might find it too radical. The ultimate decision was that out of several flights, having one more unusual pairing might be kind of fun. As well, when else would folks be likely to get a chance to try caramels and cheese together?
Formaggio Kitchen staff members are allowed to attend all classes. I like sitting in on Sundays because everybody at the shop has different areas of specialty knowledge – whether it be Eric advising on BBQ preparation, Adam talking about French wines, Gemma speaking about Italian wines, Emily teaching about chocolate, Julia discoursing on honey or Kurt telling stories about his visits with different cheesemakers. I have been to several Cheese 101s because with each set of teachers and each set of cheeses, it’s a very different experience. Some mongers focus more on the chemistry and science of cheese, others on the history behind the cheese and still others on the cheese making process itself. As well, each cheese is usually paired with a unique condiment and beverage. I have discovered some of my own favorite pairings by taking a cue from colleagues. The two that spring immediately to mind are the brebis cheeses of the Pyrenées with Miguel Gorry’s Cerises Noires (a divine black cherry spread) and the goats’ milk cheese, Valençay, with Raphaël’s Citrons jam. I was expecting the Citron jam to be kind of bitter, like marmalade, but it absolutely wasn’t – fresh and citrusy it had enough natural sweetness to counterbalance the tang of the cheese.
Once pairings have been selected and the menu drawn up, it is time for the final touches. As the Sunday crew finish breaking down the cheese wall and cleaning up the front of the shop, the evening’s teachers are organizing the wine glasses and/or the beer glasses, filling water pitchers, getting any necessary utensils, going over who will say what when and generally doing final checks to make sure everything is ready.
Classes start at 5:30pm and usually last about 1.5 – 2 hours, largely depending on how many questions people have. Following class, there is almost always an optional cave tour where folks are welcome to come down and see the cheese caves.
After the cave tours and after bidding farewell to our last guest, the final clean-up begins. It doesn’t take long – washing the glasses, recycling empty bottles and wiping down the cheese cases so they are ready for the monger putting up the cheese wall in the morning. Usually we are all done by 9pm. Afterward, there are occasional excursions for a bite to eat or a pint at the pub where a bit of rehashing occurs – perhaps chatting about a question someone asked or how a pairing was received. Each experience feeds into the next as new pairings make their way into conversations on the cheese counter, into staff members’ own meals at home or into the classroom repertoire.
For our current class offerings, please click here.