Post-Pandemic Self-Improvement Goal: Become More Knowledgeable About Cheese

Post-Pandemic  Self-Improvement Goal:  Become More Knowledgeable About Cheese

The season of cheese boards and fruit and fromage/wine pairings is here…but the platters may be a lot smaller than usual. After all, with COVID-19 sweeping the nation, many will bunker down alone or with their immediate families at home as they read of hospitals nearing capacity and governors pronounce new restrictions on gathering.

There is, of course, hope ahead. Pfizer and BioNtech, acting jointly, and Moderna, acting alone, have produced what seem to be extraordinarily effective vaccines with initial research showing them to be around 95% effective, with few or no people who receive the vaccines getting COVID-19. There are many other vaccines in testing.

These vaccines rely on a novel technology, called Messenger RNA, which may yet provide an option to inoculate against many other diseases. Of course, these vaccines have great challenges in their distribution, with requirements for extremely low-temperature distribution. Also the vaccines require two doses, and there is some concern that discomfort after the first shot may keep people away from the required second shot. In any case, there is not enough of these vaccines to quickly inoculate everyone.

There is no use sitting home and getting depressed. People should use the time they have to learn and advance. That might mean reading their Cheese Connoisseur magazine more intently! It also can mean trying new recipes, sampling new cheeses and, in general, becoming more knowledgeable about things people enjoy.

After all, we are fortunate to know that, whether through a vaccine or through the pain of developing herd immunity, this too shall pass. What we should all be striving for is to be the best we can be coming out of the situation. So we can teach others and enjoy ourselves more with the knowledge and experience we gain by focusing on self-improvement during this difficult time.

John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abagail, in which he explained his thoughts. He wrote: “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.” Surely, this is another way of saying that we must support and study medicine and so free ourselves of this virus, that our children will one day know the carefree joys of being intent on eating the finest cheese.

Cheese is Forever

In less than a year, a worldwide pandemic has changed the way people live, eat and entertain. While the crisis is now full-blown and cases are surging, there is no way to predict when things will be back to normal or what the new normal will be.

The only certainty is that today is different. While we crave variety, many are getting tired of homecooked meals. With little outside entertainment, including a lack of restaurant options, people must take more personal responsibility in providing relief from day-to-day monotony. 

Food can provide daily treats. Many specialty shops are working on limited hours or closing. Staying at home and reducing the number of shopping trips is also limiting variety. For manufacturers and cheesemakers, it is difficult to get new products approved, especially in large retailers.

There are options, however. Local businesses are struggling, and small cheese and charcuterie producers are hurting. This is the time to look for online options. If you have a favorite cheese, try searching the name and you may be able to buy it directly from the producer, along with appropriate serving ideas or other products that will be great accompaniments.

It’s not necessary to buy a wide assortment; one terrific cheese may be all you need. One large wedge and one pairing can be spectacular. I often feel cheese boards are so cluttered that it makes for confusion. When entertaining for small groups, go for less, not more. There are some wonderful seasonal cheeses available now that should be eaten within weeks, so buy one and enjoy it.

Aged cheeses are another option. There are many great cheeses that are pre-wrapped and have long shelf lives, so nothing will go to waste. I’ve kept unopened cheeses in my refrigerator for months, and they were perfect when opened. If there is a little blue mold on the rind, just cut it off.

Pairings can be added for additional excitement. I often envision raclette with boiled potatoes and an assortment of pickles. Fondue is killer for a relaxed evening. There is nothing better than a large wedge of a fine cheddar accompanied by chutney and crackers. Add a salad, and you have a complete meal.

The great thing about aged cheeses is their exceptionally long shelf life if stored properly. Buying an assortment of cheese in small wedges means you can make platters as small or large as the occasion calls for. And don’t think just about dinner. A simple combination of cheese, charcuterie, fruit or vegetables can be the perfect lunch for two. Use your time to support local companies. Find the cheeses you love online or at your local retailer. They need you to survive, and you need them to keep your sanity in a world that, right now, has all of us committed to staying home. 

More Recipes, Please

Americans love cheese. We love grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, sauces and salads. Mostly, we eat these amazing concoctions at restaurants. We indulge when we are out and save in-home cooking to simpler foods.
COVID-19 has changed our lives and most likely will continue to do so for quite a while. Unfortunately, the restaurant industry has suffered, as people are hesitant to go out and mingle in groups. In some areas, local regulations have restricted restaurant access. In other areas, masks are required, and many people do not see themselves donning masks when eating out.

Because of the dangers of mingling, home cooking has seen a revival. People are experimenting, often with recipes from their childhoods using easy-to-find ingredients at mainstream grocery markets. Folks are also cutting back on the number of stores they will visit. If their main supermarket does not carry the items they want, they will not make an additional trip.

Another problem is people are just looking to cook simple recipes and favorite meals. Polenta with Gorgonzola is not on the menu. Every family member may not be a fan, and the ingredients may not be easy to find. Then again, in many simple recipes, the addition of a fine cheese may elevate the dish to a sublime meal.

Sautéed mushrooms in butter over chicken breast is delicious but adding crème fraîche to the mushrooms will add a level of richness and sophistication. Crumbled blue cheese on top of a grilled steak is a restaurant classic, and homemade blue cheese dressing is amazingly simple to make and tastes nothing like blue cheese dressing in a bottle.

While I find cheese plates easy to make, I have been doing it for years. Consumers may find the task more daunting. Just one featured cheese paired with fruit, vegetables, nuts and condiments is a complete summer meal that is perfect for when it is getting late.

But what is the trick to providing customers with the knowledge, especially when staffing is low and sampling is forbidden? Recipes. It is back to basics. Using print recipes, tear off pads and digital are great ways to educate.

When thinking about recipes, do not think just about the cheese. Homemade condiments are easy, unusual and delicious. A simple blueberry compote spooned over a room temperature, soft-ripened cheese is a sublime dessert.

Since out-of-sight is usually out-of-mind, old-fashioned print may be the best way to reach the greatest number of people. Cross merchandising is also a great way to offer encouragement.
Now is the time to bring cheese home.

Giving Cheese a Helping Hand

The impact of COVID-19 on the consumption of specialty cheese is difficult to discern. On the one hand, a lot of these top-end cheeses are served through an upscale foodservice channel, such as high-end restaurants, cruise lines and yachts, first-class airline cabins and private jets. The idea of specialty cheese as something upscale and special correlates to these types of venues. Many are closed, such as cruises, and many are restricted in volume, such as restaurants.

Of course, lots of specialty cheese is consumed at home, but, even there, a lot of specialty cheese is served around entertainment for friends and relatives—and that type of conviviality isn’t happening as much right now.
Of course, specialty cheese is an indulgence, and people stuck at home, nervous about the future, might well indulge. The fact that the refrigerator is close by to the spare bedroom or dining room table, where people are working these days, makes consuming specialty cheese easy. This is a real contrast to office employee lounges that tend to be filled with inexpensive junk food.

On the other hand, people who aren’t entertaining much may stick to basics, and if they are ordering groceries online, they certainly won’t get exposed to tastings and promotions that spur trial and impulse purchasing. They may even get bored with the items they have always liked and eliminate the purchases.

As if the stay-at-home, don’t entertain, don’t-eat-out culture promoted by COVID-19 wasn’t enough, it follows, of course, that massive tariffs imposed on imports of many European specialty cheeses, in response to an unrelated issue regarding Europe’s subsidizing of Airbus Jets, has made the situation even worse.

Food retailers seem to be mostly experiencing record years in overall sales. Obviously, though, there are people who, in an economic sense, have been very hurt by COVID-19. Up till now, most people who have been laid off have received unemployment insurance equal to, or more than, what they were paid, but think about restaurant owners unable to switch to take-out but still responsible for rent and other costs.

Everyone has to think of their own situation, of course, but we can all help. When I go to a restaurant, I tip a little more generously. I even order more food than I might normally, figuring I will take the rest home. I was out at a local Italian place where we’ve come to know the owner. We ordered a full table, then an extra fresh mozzarella and tomato caprese salad, an order of fried mozzarella, cheese ravioli, a Gorgonzola salad and few more things.
As we walked to the car, my oldest son, William, having seen me order more than usual asked, “Do you think he will make it?” I replied, “We will try to help where we can.”

Working Around Tariffs On Imported Cheese

Working Around Tariffs On Imported Cheese

The world is going tariff crazy!  President Trump put tariffs on China, and they respond in kind. Recently, the news is filled with the decision to impose tariffs on Mexican tomatoes while “dumping” charges are investigated. In the background, the U.S. has won a World Trade Organization action declaring that Europe has been subsidizing large civilian aircraft and that these subsidies have had an adverse impact on the U.S. aircraft industry.

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Getting Cheese Closer To Your Door

Getting Cheese Closer  To Your Door

The hottest trend in retailing is something called “omni-channel.”

The big example that disrupted the whole industry was when Amazon bought Whole Foods. Though this combination of “Bricks and Clicks”—or physical stores and online purchases—is often what is spoken of when talking about Omni-Channel, it can also mean many different sales venues and delivery options.

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