A Life on the Wedge: An Interview with Cheesemonger Gordon Edgar
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One of my favorite things in the world is a good, oozey goat cheese on a cracker. I'm the girl who beelines to the cheese table at a cocktail party. I'm blind to the little brownie squares with their valiant toothpicks. I'm un-phased by the cookie trays and the little cupcakes with their doilies. Take back your pigs in a blanket, your blasphemous little wieners with their drooping dough. Give me the brie. Give me the Humboldt Fog, the Mount Tam Cowgirl Creamery wheel, the Cabot cheddar, the pecorino. Give me cheese! Oh lord, give me cheese.
So you can imagine my excitement over interviewing Gordon Edgar, author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge. He's the cheese man at the largest independent grocery in San Francisco, and lives and breathes the stuff. He knows what he's talking about, and he's not a snob. He's a former punk rocker and has an imaginary white schnauzer for a pet. He's hilarious, and who knew cheese could be so hilarious! Most importantly, he's easy to talk to, and can teach you everything you ever wanted to know about cheese--with a language you can understand. I talk to him about taste, the difference between factory-made and artisan, and the future of the cheese movement.
Makenna Goodman: What's it like being the cheesemonger at the largest independent grocery in San Francisco?
Gordon Edgar: The beauty of working at a worker-owned cooperative is that I know that I don't have to do everything. My job is to source cheese, buy it, and to organize when it comes in, but I know that the people I work with every day are just as committed. As a worker-coop we have very low turnover - especially when compared to, for example, non-union natural food chains that may carry similar products - so we have a lot of experience and expertise behind the counter every day. Because of the nature of my job, I probably wake up with cheese anxiety dreams more than my co-workers but I also have to cut and wrap a lot less than I did 15 years ago.
MG: How does your love of cheese affect the way you live?
GE: I must admit that I have geared a lot of vacations around visiting cheesemakers over the last decade. In addition, I am always asked by friends to bring cheese to parties. Also, my parents order the cheese plate at restaurants now in order to tell the waiters that I'm a cheese buyer. The waiters never really care, but they pretend to, which is the most reasonable reaction.
MG: When you're considering farms to buy cheese from, what's the first mark on your checklist?
GE: The cheese itself is always the first thing, not the farm. What is original about it? What does it taste like? Is it better or worse than other, similar cheeses? Is it unique or would something have to be discontinued in order for it to have a space on the shelf?
Usually something else will have to go if I bring a new cheese in so I ask: is it local? Is it US-made? What's the size of the operation? Do they have a policy on the use of bovine growth hormone? What's the wholesale cost? Does it have some kind of special niche? I'll add all these things up in my head and assess whether I will buy it or not.
If a cheese is small-production, made in the US, and I haven't had to deal with any obnoxious sales reps or brokers, it will definitely have a leg-up.
MG: What's your take on factory-made versus artisan cheese?