Last Thursday evening, thanks to my good friend Walter at Paris Ceramics, I had the opportunity to feast my eyes and palate on some of the finest foods that New York has to offer. Hosted by 25 showrooms at the Architects & Designers Building and sponsored by the New York Times Style Magazine, I spent the evening moving from showroom to showroom, and floor to floor to sampling post Halloween treats from the likes of Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern, Dan Barber from Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit.
However, being the simple, yet complex upstate boy that I am, I found myself starting and ending the evening with the Four Ms; Mahon, Majorero, Manchego and Max. As you can guess, the Mahon, Majorero, Manchego are the cheeses, and the Max is Artisanal's very own, Max McCalman. Surprisingly and refreshingly, this world-renowned legend of curd humbly called himself the "Cheese Guy" when introduced. And although his appearance was set to help support his new book "Cheese: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best", he seemed more comfortable talking about the salty seaside grasses eaten by the Menorca cows to create the sharp, tangy and salty Mahon. Or point out that the Majoreo Pimenton goat cheese was originally coated in a spicy paprika-like spice to keep the flies away (bacteria, etc.). His down-to-earth approach even took the ubiquitous Manchego to new levels by calling out the details that made this El Toboso-sourced offering special and noteworthy.
Max made me look at cheese differently that night, and therefore when I went to shoot the mother load of cheese that I brought home to Natasha, I shot it differently. In the details I found simplicity, architectural structure and shape that captured the multi-leveled intensity of the Mahon, the tangy angles of the Manchego and the monolithic strength of the Majoreo Pimenton.
After speaking at length with Max I started to understand that one doesn't learn about cheese while studying or tasting it, one learns about life. Like cheese, human kind is basically made up of the same stuff, but it is the details that make us unique and wonderful (even when runny and stinky). Our land or region of origin, be it near an ocean, plain or a mountain. The process by which we interact with our surroundings to grow and mature. The tradition and process that make up culture and community that make us who we are, the form in which we are seen by the world. Traveling, seeking out and discovering "new" cheeses not only gives us insight and perspective into other people's lives, it stays with us as we come back home to better appreciate our own homes and whey of life. Sorry, that was a bit cheesy. I hope Max will still allow us to take the Cheese & Wine 101.