Thursday, February 08, 2007

more Manhattan wine

Fromager Max McCalman showing off his cheese caves (image by John Degen)

If the wine and women don’t get you out to Unwind with Wine, there’s the possibility of winning a door prize. I dropped my business card in a big bowl and walked out of there with a virtual gift basket of gourmet cheeses delivered to my buddy’s door in New Jersey from

The basket arrived just after I left for Toronto, so I got an excited phone call on the turnpike from my grateful friends, Scott and Carol. “The cheese is here, the cheese is here… ooooh, Stilton.” I just checked out igourmet’s site. Low cholesterol buffalo-milk cheese… by mail. Who says the Internet is just for porn. sells just about anything you’d want to eat or drink, including wine. What they DON’T do is deliver across the border to Canada, but they’re a great option for ordering gifts for American friends. I’m a big sender of books by mail as gifts, but now that cheese and wine are options…

Speaking of cheese in the mail, I also took in a tasting of Champagne and Cognac matched with fine cheeses at the Artisanal Premium Cheese emporium and teaching facility tucked beside the Lincoln Tunnel at 37th and 10th. Scott came along to this one and, arriving a bit early, we were both treated to a tour of their state-of-the-art cheese caves. Man, I was hoping for an underground grotto extending for miles under Manhattan and filled with cheesy stalagmites, but in fact the cheese caves are temperature and humidity-controlled walk-in coolers designed to optimize the process of affinage, or cheese aging and maturation. As explained by the cheese master, Fromager Max McCalman, cheeses have distinctive personalities and distinctive aging preferences, so there is an art to grouping them together in a small cool dark room and letting them mellow. And it's an art with a seriously commercial purpose. Artisanal sends cheese by mail all across the US, and when their caves are full, they are aging an inventory of over $1 million in cheese.

I think McCalman has a lot of fun bringing unsuspecting stinky-cheese virgins into cave #4 and seeing how long they try to hold their breath, because I have never been in a smellier enclosed space in my life, but I could listen to this guy talk about cheese for a long time, whatever the atmosphere. He clearly loves what he does, and he doesn’t just know how to age cheese, he knows how to eat it, and with what. The combinations of cheeses, Champagnes and cognacs he arranged were all hit, no miss, despite some seriously funky flavours to process.

…more later

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