Welcome to the blog of the Rehoboth Beach Cheese Company. Pull up a bar stool and experience our Counter Culture!

I'm Andy Meddick, Owner and President of the Rehoboth Beach Cheese Company. In 2005, I left my corporate I.T. job in Washington DC, to relocate with my spouse's business to the DE beaches. What to do now we live in a state where chicken houses can often outnumber human? Faced with a four hour round trip to the closest decent food market, I opened my first store, Good For You Market, a full service grocery store, focusing on organic, natural, and gourmet foods. In the worst economy since the 1930s, I won Best of Delaware awards three years running. After four years, I decided to simplify the business, re-aligning to focus on what we did best. The result is the Rehoboth Beach Cheese Company. We sell (retail and wholesale) artisan/farmstead cheeses, charcuterie, organic produce,and other specialty foods such as spices and seasonings. We also teach cheese classes, cater, sell online, and consult with other businesses to build their cheese programs.

I've learned much since starting out. For example, staffing was a steep learning curve, and I discovered that a savvy sales and marketing professional lay dormant in an I.T. geek! Systems analysis, business analysis, database design and development, data architecture, web design, specialty cheeses and foods, organic farming, catering, and cooking. What do all these threads have in common? Curiosity! It begets technique, which in turn begets better solutions to commond needs. Why complain about lack of choice, if you're not willing to offer an alternative? Our move, and my business development has taught me to participate in life, and to be ever curious! Enjoy!

Nov 16, 2009

Did you hear it? Around 5pm this evening? That scream, crash, scream was not a 3 year old girl, it was me doing a pretty good impression of a 3 year old girl. Settle down, and backtrack with me...

Good For You Market has been closed on Mondays for this entire year. Why? Nothing to do with poor sales. Partly to do with the difficulty of finding motivated staff in a beach area, and partly to do with store renovations. We have spent Mondays, and quite a few late nights/all nights/early mornings renovating the store, upgrading lighting, improving refrigeration, shelving and display units, opening a juice/coffee bar, a sandwich bar, and reorganizing the entire store. All while keeping the store open, and doing all the usual stuff that goes along with running a small business with an inventory that is mainly food: products which have notoriously low margins. Oh yeah, the economy's kinda sucked too.

So, today, being a Monday (and my one day off!), I was at the store finishing up staging the supplements, personal care, and cleaning/laundry departments. I've filled a position that I've kept open for quite some time: Department Manager (DM) for said departments. I promised DM that I would shortly work my away around to that area of the store now that the food areas are completed. So, swallowing the motivational ideology about a Manager being a good, "Multi-tasker,' I was multi-tasking away with only a Cher CD for company. I figured I could cut wood and paint chalkboards for the produce department, paint shelving for the supplements department, plan out the sandwich bar, and analyze the gluten free grocery department whose sales are not so healthy as the food. The assumption was that while the paint was drying I could be working all of the other tasks in rotation.

So, I race downstairs from my workshop painting area onto the sales floor to finish up with the supplements department. I put my hand on the shelf next to the stairs, and something black catches my eye.

Scream #1: a customer, presumably the 3-year old girl whose scream I emulated, had left a black rubber scorpion on the candle/room freshener shelves for me to find when alone in the store multi-tasking. The wierd thing about getting spooked is that while I was irrationally screaming like said 3-year old girl, my mind was also rationally considering that there are no scorpions in Delaware, especially in November. If my mind can multi-task like this, you'd think I'd be able to complete the optimistic schedule I set myself today.

Crash. Scream #2. Fast forward to metal shelving collapsed on the floor, having initiated a domino affect and knocked over the darn gluten free grocery shelving, making a big red puddle mixed with broken glass, on the floor, with me in the middle of it. I now smell like a tailgate party: sun dried tomato dressing, mixed with coconut vinegar, rice chips, and crackers. I actually consider sobbing (girly man!), but the smell of coconut vinegar (which most definitely does NOT smell like Pina Coladas, more like a Fish and Chip shop), motivated me to suck it up, and suck it up (the spill that is).

While I'm motivating myself to clean up the mess, my mind wanders on to wider issues of motivation. It's been a tough week this week, requiring 'on your feet' kind of thinking, that only a Hotel Manager would appreciate! A business relationship that was chugging along smoothly, has taken a trip down under, I had to lay off one of my juice bar associates, and it's review time! All Managers reading this will empathize. Review time is a time of anticipation of you're getting the review, but if you're the Manager who has to write and give the reviews, all while keeping your regular work lights on, well it's a relief when they're done! So while cleaning, I'm musing, or amusing myself. How do you motivate yourself to keep a big picture in mind when the details are well, kinda crappy! How do you motivate others? Business partners? Staff? I concluded you can't motivate others, just like I concluded multi-tasking is not possible. You can incentivise other, but motivation has to come from self. You can't phsyically work on more than one thing at a time. You can however, juggle multiple priorities, ensuring that deadlines are not missed.

I'm fairly new to this writing gig too. I write copy for our store ads, marketing and press releases, article for our newsletter, this blog, and also a weekly column, "Organic Living" in Coastal Sussex e-magazine: http://www.coastalsussex.com/ I sometimes feel like Sally Field when I get rare feedback from my writing, "You like me, you really do!" Most of the time there is no feedback, and you really have no idea who, if anyone is reading. The writing can be hard to get motivated to do. Instead, I incentivize myself. I remind myself how much I enjoy doing it, how it disciplines me to commit to deadlines, and makes me better at my job with all the research the articles and columns necessitate.

I'm tired, it's been a busy day off. I'm covered in black paint, sundried tomato dressing, coconut vinegar, and the parsley spray I used to clean up. I'm happy though, and for that I'm thankful. Home to the family and face the music for the doghouse I left this morning!

Nov 15, 2009

This entry brought to you by guest blogger, Artie Zan, Good For You Market's 'Cheese Wiz.'

Mary Chapin Carpenter sang, “Grow old with me, the best is yet to come.” I say, “Old age, great if you’re a cheese, else not so much.” Mrs Zan and I spent this past Sunday cleaning out the spare room. This detoured us down memory lane to the days when we used to await the mailman for our holiday snaps, not uploading onto our computer. You see we couldn’t resist that box – the 100lb one containing decades of fading photographs that always derails cleaning out the spare room. While Mrs Zan was getting misty-eyed over past vacations, me, myself, I, well, let’s just say I spent an hour becoming re-acquainted with another long-lost relative: my hair! This got me thinking about aging; how it’s good on cheeses but tough on us carbon-based life forms with joints and tendons, and hair. While I reach for the glucosamine, read on.

It’s always interesting to give a sample of the same cheese at different ages: youth, middle, and old age, persuading customers, or dinner guests that it’s the same cheese they’re enjoying.

We have to thank those brave companies who carry the cost of inventory while storing cheeses for aging, since it’s a case of, buy now, get paid later! Cheese is aged by storing under controlled conditions of temperature and humidity in a ‘cave’ (these days a room), giving a consistent quality of flavor and texture. The process, part-science, part-art, is known as, “Affinage,” overseen by a skilled artisan, the, “Affineur.” His/her job is to ensure strict, traditional standards are applied, so that each cheese earns the classification assuring us of the quality and experience typical to that style of cheese.

What changes in the taste, texture, appearance, and aroma does the Affineur monitor? Aging in cheese is interchangeable with the stages of ‘ripening.’ Ripening starts at the point that the cheese begins to ‘age?’ Huh? Things that make you go, “Yum!” Cheese begins to age as soon as the milk is heated and the starter culture introduced. The resulting curds are then cut, drained of fermented whey, salted, and placed into molds that are pressed to extract more whey. No whey! Yes whey! Then the cheeses are ready to begin the formal ‘affinage’ process of aging/ripening.

When it comes to cheese aging, it really is a case of, "What goes around becomes a rind!" The outside egde of the cheese (the rind) develops with age. Rinds can be natural, bloomy, or washed. Natural means no stimulus (mold, wash, or Federal!) applied to precipitate a rind. Most semi-firm/ hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Pecorino-Romano have natural rinds. Bloomy rinds develop by spraying the cheese’s exterior with spores of Penicillium candidum (a harmless mold), prior to ripening. This also affects flavor. Examples of Bloomy-rind cheeses are Brie, Camembert, and some Chevres. Washed rind means the outside of the cheese is washed with brine, oil, brandy, red wine (for example, Drunken Goat), or even pear cider (for example, Stinking Bishop). Washing ensures a moist rind, encouraging the growth of harmless bacteria. This bacteria are scraped off and discarded, turned back into the cheese, or left on the cheese to further define the rind. Taleggio (Italy’s answer to Brie) is a good example of a washed rind cheese. In Taleggio’s case, the bath is in brine. Mrs Zan prefers lavender oil!

The longer the cheese is stored in the cave, then the more the rind changes, the cheese dries (controlled by the room’s humidity), lactic acids in the cheese crystallize (forming the white crunchy spots in harder cheeses), and the cheese thus ‘ripens.’ Cheese wheels are stored on wooden racks, being turned regularly to ensure even ripening. The cooler the cave, then the slower the aging, producing greater flavor complexity. The wheels may be wrapped in leaves, laid on beds of straw or rye, bound by spruce, or even rolled in oak wood ash, such as the great Chevres of France’s Loire Valley.

Some cheeses are ripened as little as a few days. Brillat-Savarin, for example, is ripe after just a week, Mild Cheddar as little as 3 months. Younger cheeses are soft and creamy, with subtle taste and aroma. For example, Ricotta, Mozzarella, some Chevres, or Quest Blanco. Aged cheeses can have soft rinds with spicy pastes as deep as the center (for example, Mountain Gorgonzola), through semi-firm and somewhat moist, such as three year aged Old Quebec Cheddar, up to hard, flaky and dry such as Five Year Vintage Gouda. Asiago is aged up to two years, Parmigiano-Reggiano four years, and Gouda up to five years. Younger cheeses need the right technique, beer or wine pairing to tease out their presence. More ‘mature’ cheeses just need to sit at room temperature for an hour and you know they’re there! Incidentally, a good cheesemonger lights up with enthusiasm, letting you taste before you buy. If they don’t, trust your gut and move on!

Later, dudes, Artie Zan, G4U Market’s ‘Cheese Wiz’ over and out to lunch.

Thank you Artie for whetting our appetites to learn more about cheese aging. I think you've also taught us to cherish youth, evaluate middle age, and respect old age! For those readers who say, “Andy, you’re still a baby!” Let me tell you my experience this week interviewing prospective staff who:
  1. Looked at my head and not me the entire interview, their expression betraying their thoughts that you always had so much skin on your head (and that they will always have so much hair on theirs).
  2. Asked if we always play, “Vintage Madonna” in the store!
  3. Were born in the 1990s, when you I was already pulling all-nighters at work, telling Faithful Spouse I wanted to re-tile the master bathroom for my birthday, instead of that weekend in South Beach.
  4. Don’t have a dodgy knee that makes climbing to the stock room touch and go, or more accurately, touch and no-go.
  5. Their parents aren’t telling them how wonderful retirement is.
Cheers: I raise my glass of 1998 Cote du Rhone, savor aged Gouda, and ice my dodgy knee, while listening to “Vintage Madonna.”
Andy and Artie, for Good For You Market.

This entry is brought to you by guest blogger: Artie Zan, Good For You Market's 'Cheese Wiz.'

Step aside Provolone, for Parmesan-Reggiano is arguably the world’s most famous, and oldest cheese with production stretching back over 800 years. Reggie, as I call him, is packed with sweet, nutty, complex flavor. In cooking, Parmesan-Reggiano is suitable for many recipes, from soups, sauces, filling for stuffed pastas, roast meats, baking, desserts (try it with strawberries if you don’t believe me!), grating over cooked dishes, and even as finger food for snacking. Forget that powdery shredded stuff in sealed plastic tubs, that’s as close to Parmesan-Reggiano as I am to the Zan family living in Australia, whom I recently found on Facebook.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is produced in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northwest Italy, specifically the Po Valley (Emilia), and the mountains stretching east to the Adriatic sea (Romagna). True Parmesan-Reggiano is crafted only in this region, thus preserving authenticity. Why the ’Parma’ in Parmesan? The city of Parma is the center of this region; an area rich with beautiful lakes, lush mountains and green pastures.

Emilia-Romagna has developed its specific culinary style and at its center is Parmesan-Reggiano. Each of the main cities in Emilia has a presence in this cuisine. Parma is proud of its prosciutto, with the pigs being fed on the whey left over from Parmesan-Reggiano production. Bologna tantalizes us with mortadella and the meat-based rag├╣. Piacenza give us its spectacular tortellini; and Ferrara its sausage. Fresh pasta (pasta fresca), and dried hard durum wheat pasta (pasta secca) is found everywhere. Romagna is none too shabby with its aromatic herbs, gamey meats, fresh fish and the Piadina peasant breads from the Adriatic coast. For those who’ve vacationed in Rimini, you have to have experienced these peasant breads. Gosh, how could I mention this region without a nod of the head to Balsamic Vinegar: produced exclusively in Modena province? Look for that on any label of Balsamic Vinegar, else use it to kill the weeds in your driveway.

Italy is so rich in food culture and dear to my heart (being a vanguard of chemical-free farming, almost by default) that my focus always wanders off when I think of Italian foods. Back to Parmesan-Reggiano, the Granddaddy of all cheeses, and head of the “Grana” family: cheeses characterized by their ‘granular’ texture. To best appreciate this texture, best to pull Parmesan-Reggiano apart roughly; grate it if you will, but never slice!

Parmesan-Reggiano production is done by hand using the same traditional techniques handed down for centuries, overseen by a very strict consortium! Parmesan-Reggiano is made from un-pasteurized cows milk from the region’s dairy herds, ensuring a rich bacterial flora. On a daily basis, from April – November, fresh whole morning milk is mixed with partially skimmed milk from the prior evening’s milking, plus fermented whey from the previous day’s production. This mix is performed in copper vats, the whey helping to initiate fermentation. No way. Yes, whey! Natural rennet coagulates the milk, forming the curds that are the beginning of the cheese. Besides the salt bath that the cheese wheels are immersed in for firming, there are no other additives allowed. Each copper vat makes just two wheels of cheese. However, these wheels are monster truck huge – weighing around 88 pounds. Have you ever seen the forearms on a Cheese Wiz? The wheels are recognized externally by their straw-like color. Internally the color varies with age, from soft yellow, to the same straw-like color of the outside. Minimum required aging is 14 months, with most wheels aged to two years. A wonderful thing about aging of this cheese is the evolving flavor profile. Younger wheels are nutty and sweet, older wheels more complex with caramel, butterscotch and tropical fruit flavors.

So, what’s that fuzzy writing you can see on the outside of the Parmesan-Reggiano wheel? That is the certification mark ensuring expert inspection for quality and appearance. There is also the assurance of identity that runs the entire circumference of the wheel’s outside edge. This means that the wheel is still recognizable as Parmesan-Reggiano, even if it has been cut into smaller pieces. You can also identify which province the cheese was made in, at what time of year, and which specific producer made it. Ask the G4U Cheese Wiz to show you, test us!

Oh man, am I hungry!

Later, dudes, Artie Zan, G4U Market’s ‘Cheese Wiz’ over and out to lunch.

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