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!

Oct 21, 2011

Holy Mongers Among Us (Batman)!

It's Friday. I have to sell cheese in a muddy field. I cut my finger. I'm cranky! I needed a diversion. This story caught my eye. Lots of people have picked up on it, but, I found the real story lies beneath the story. Where's Paul Harvey when you need him?

The Center for Retail Research in a recent report with the mildly threatening, yet irresistible name of, "The First Worldwide Shrinkage Survey," found that cheese is the most frequently 'lifted' item out of shops at the global level. Well, they phrased it as, "Shrinkage Losses of Most Vulnerable Lines." Oh, where do I start with that?

This got me thinking, in a (bi)lateral kind of way. The venerable institution never called me! I beg to differ in all of the shops I've had, and all of the venues I sell in/at. I've not found their statistics to bear true. Why? 

Here's my theory. If we as customers support the true cheesemongers among us, then the retailer curiously experiences less, uhm, 'shrinkage,' (and who wouldn't want to support that? Look, if I have to endure politely all those, "Who cut the cheese?" jokes, then please indulge my Beavis & Butthead euphemisms!

Why would the retailer experience less 'shrinkage' (itself a euphemism for pilfering)? Simply put, it's hard to put the lift in shoplift when fine cheese is cut to order, not pre-cut and left to 'age' in the open environment of the store. Customers are getting short-changed if they miss out on the theatrical experience of buying artisan/farmstead cheeses from a knowledgeable professional at the cheese counter. Sure, we cut some part of our inventory to meet the needs of our, 'grab and go, got somewhere to be 'now' customers, but the cheesemonger will know their inventory and determine what is suitable to be sold this way. Would you like a story with that (cheese)?

So, my point is, please support your friendly, professional, local cheesemonger who cuts to order for you. Not only do you get a great product, custom picked for your needs, but you also get the knowledge transfer to make you look good. Additionally, please reassure yourself that, by standing on line at the cheese counter, you're helping the retailer minimize shrinkage, keep prices down, and get more of the artisan cheesemaker's hard work in the hands of the people in a manner that supports everyone's bellies and pockets, not the 'shoplifter.'

Let's hear it for the mongers amongus! Are you a member of the American Cheese Society? Do you plan on getting your staff certified as cheese professionals?

Oct 20, 2011

When the Garroxta Gotcha, or Tales Out of Leftie Field!

I read in one of my many cheese books (all apologies to the author, I can't remember which), that sooner or later it happens to everyone at the cheese counter. That mother of all cuts. Not a casual knick and a curseword. No, a Monty Python gusher of a flesh wound, with all the accompanying woozy spells...

Well, as the saying goes, s**t happens! S**t happened to me last night. I got, 'the cut.' That this had to happen in the restaurant kitchen of my friend, a chef and restaurateur, treating us to an informal private pre-opening dinner, was, well, humiliating! Yes, we watched as my pride left the building, preceding my fall from competence. As it happens, Cat Stevens was wrong, the first cut is not the deepest. The first cut was a graze. This was deep! Deeper than the pile of metaphors I'm burying myself in!

I tried to brush off how awful I felt - dizzy, woozy, slightly nauseous. All caused by the sudden loss of pride, not the amount of blood (which was impressive), or cabin pressure. My friend the chef, already a little crazy (in a talented, creative wild man kinda way!), is made crazier by the fact, that after months of hiking up the mountain of obstacles to open his new restaurant, he now sits in that elevated plateau of rarified air, weeks away from opening, and subject to zealous bursts of oxygen and sleep-starved creative energy. I should have known better than my poor choice of joke intended to lighten the load of my humility and put the focus back where it should have been - his food and the restaurant. You see, this idiot (me) thought it appropriate to offer my copiously pumping blood as paint somewhere in the building. I think he actually wanted to do it! Oh, my poor attempt at humor gets worse. Me, noticing the chorizo that Chef friend has made, quips, "Well you could always use the blood for a blood sausage." This consequently steals the thunder from his presentation of the blood sausage he is about to show us. Still, everyone forgets later when they tuck into the sausage. Why do I not notice when I'm the only one laughing at my jokes?

Spouse stepped in, not in that 'lick of the handkerchief soothing maternal way.' No, more in that, "I'll knock you into the middle of next week if youse two don't stop your whining, don't make me come in there" kinda maternal way! Spouse tells me to stick my arm in the air, suck it up and eat. We'll stop at the E.R. on the way home because, "It would be rude to leave now since Chef friend had gone to all this trouble!"

While spouse sits knocking back the wine (whine), Chef friend, also a volunteer firefighter, saves my thumb by using an elastic band to tournaquet; then goes back to the quarter pig roasting, while simultaneously attending to the blood sausage and chorizo he'd made by hand! My hero, I swoon (lack of blood)!

So, what culinary crime did I commit to earn my badge of shame cut? I offered my help. I was delegated the cheese board to prepare. Distracted by chatting, I reached for a different knife, so that the Colston Basset Stilton knife would not contaminate the Garroxta I needed to cut next. I did not even notice that instead of a ten inch chefs knife, I had grabbed a ten inch paring knife. It gets better! I used the knife upside down. When I sliced down with all the pressure I knew appropriate to slice a wheel of rinded Garroxta, the blade sliced me, and the cheese was merely tickled by the top side. I swear I heard it chuckle as the knife bit to the knuckle! You see, the Garroxta (prounounced gah-ROTCH-ah), well, it gotcha!

What have I learned? Well, Jack Byrnes (Robert DiNiro) was right. It's all about, "opposable thumbs" (Gregory). Having one out of commision has turned me into a leftie, wondering how the heck I'm going to, "Suck it up" and live to serve Milton Farmers Market with cheese tomorrow! One has to laugh! One has to open that book on knife skills I got for my birthday, and quit relying on Top Chef to learn cutting technique!

The cheese I featured in this article were Garrotxa, and Colston Basset Stilton. For more information, on Garroxta, click here, for Colston Basset Stilton, click here.

Who is my Chef friend? For those who know spouse and I well, you can probably guess. I won't divulge yet though. Chef has a great new concept, authentic, of its time and place, and unique in our area (at least for now - imitation will be the sincerest form of flattery). He is so close to opening, I do not want to steal his thunder. All I can say is I've had a glimpse of how the space will appear. Impressive! We've enjoyed more than a glimpse of the food. Yes, it gets our, "We Know Yum" stamp of approval. Rustic with a sophisticated twist, and delicious!

Oct 18, 2011

Poppadom Preach...

So, I was ruminating (no it will not ruin your eyesight!) the other evening. Why is there only 1 Indian restaurant in Delaware? I love Indian food. The attention to detail. The use of the freshest spices, the colors, the aromas, the textures, and yes, the nutrition.

I come from a land where there is an Indian restaurant and associated pub every block (kind of like donut shops and funeral homes in New Jersey), and the national dish is "Chicken Tikka Masala." Trust the Brits to create a 'fake' Indian dish based on a cuisine from a former colony! That's a lot of chutzpah! A lorra, lorra chutzpah (my British readers will get that cultural reference). Any guesses my American friends?

The almost complete absence of Indian food in Delaware has forced me to experiment, and become adept at cooking Indian food, much to the chagrin of my LSS (long suffering spouse). When my Mam in Wales makes a curry, it is a 2-day event. Mam makes it all from scratch, even making her own curry spices from cumin, coriander, galangal, ginger, tumeric, and so on. None of this store bought 'curry spice mixture' for her boy! Being Brits we will incorporate chips also (chunky French Fries)!

So,what's my favorite Indian dish? It's a vegetable biryani with a panak paneer sauce and Peshwari Naan bread. Biryani is typically a meat based dish, but I prefer the vegetarian version.

Oct 13, 2011

This post appeared in the, "Ask The Cheesemonger" section of this week's E-ssue of our newsletter, "The Grapevine." It is a dynamic article in that I've been updating as the passion takes me!

Q: Why are cheese names so confusing?
A: Uhm, you lost me!
Q: There're European ones that sound like towns - Gruyere, Cheddar. Then there're the funky random ones that sound like beers - Billy Blue, Constant Bliss, Bloomsday...

A: Ah, etymology! "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Yes, that is the William Shakespeare Rose, left.

When many people first delve into growing their knowledge of fine cheeses, figuring out the names of cheeses is something that drives us nuts! Our brains are hard wired to look for context, a definitive frame of reference by which to judge new experiences. Most of us do not like to operate in gray areas. The world of cheese, if you forgive the analogy, operates in nuances of gray. Embrace them!
As part of our ongoing web site upgrade project I’m designing a ‘Virtual Cheesemonger’ to guide you through our online store. I don’t want to give too much proprietary information away, but the basis of our Virtual Cheesemonger is a classification of cheese. Where does one start? Texture? Origin? Variety? Milk Type? Production Method? All of the above!

Old World cheeses are generally named after the region or method of production. Open a good cheese atlas* at random and browse the famous varieties of cheese such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Gorgonzola, Manchego, Reblochon de Savoie, Roquefort, Emmental, Comté, Stilton, Cheddar, the list goes on…  New World cheeses, while based on more famously named European cheeses are generally named after the farm on which they originated, often appended with a whimsical name with great meaning for the cheesemaker. For example, Cato Corner Farm Bloomsday. Alternatively, New World cheeses may receive a whimsical name alone. Consider, Consider Bardwell, if you will!

{* I like the "World Cheese Book" edited by Juliet Harbutt,

Dorling Kindersley Penguin Group (UK), 2009}

Let’s look at Old World cheeses as our illustration. There’s a joke in the artisan cheese world. We say, “Would you like a story with that (cheese)?” I’m unsure where this originated, but in a nod to the Slow Food movement, I think it suggests something antithetical to the eponymous, “Would you like fries with that?” Some of these cheeses are easy to spot why they’re so named. Others, not so much! What they all have in common, however, is that there is always a good story behind the cheese, and isn't that what good food is about? Sharing stories, community, if you will?

Parmigiano Reggiano, for example. Easy. P.R. (for short) originated in the province of Reggiano, in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. Parmigiano is the Italian adjective for Parma. Reggiano is the Italian adjective for Reggio Emilia. So, P.R. is named after the place in which it is made. Easy, right? Until you consider that no cheese is made in Parma! Parma is more famous for its ham, the pigs of which are fed on the whey bi-product of the famous cheese of the area. All clear?

Gorgonzola. I always assumed that there was a gorge involved. I grew up in South Wales overlooking the ‘West Country’ – the origin of Cheddar. Sunday afternoon car trips often ended at Cheddar Gorge. Before my editor freaks out, I should state, more accurately, that our Sunday afternoon car trips ended at the car park, adjacent to Cheddar Gorge! These trips forever marked my frame of reference for cheese! By the way, does anyone remember the Canadian animated series, “Bob and Margaret?” My favorite episode was the one where the couple entertained Canadian guests just a little past their guest sell by (stay by) date. Margaret fantacized about pushing her Canadian guests over Cheddar gorge. I digress! Gorgonzola – originally named, “Stracchino di Gorgonzola” derived from the Italian word, stracca, meaning tired. Gorgonzola was made in the fall when the cows returned, exhausted from mountain pastures to the meadows of Lombardy, where Gorgonzola was the main trading town. Easy!

Manchego. Not my favorite of Spain’s many cheeses, but easily the most famous. Named after the dry plateau of La Mancha in the center of Spain. The Moors named this region Al Mansha (land without water). It is the landscape that comes to mind when I think of Spain: hot, arid, dry. Such land is suited for sheep pasturing. It is the specific local breed of sheep, Manchega, that help give Manchego its name.

Reblochon de Savoie. You can be forgiven for thinking this stunningly beautiful, rich, buttery, washed rind, raw cows milk cheese is so named because it's from the (Haute) Savoie region of France. Why? You're half right! You see Reblochon has been made in the summer Alpine pastures of the Haute Savoie since the thirteenth century, but was unheard of until after the French revolution. Why? The name Reblochon comes from the old Savoie word reblocher, meaning, "to re-milk," or, "to pinch the cow's udder again!" Up until the French revolution the farmers were taxed according to the volume of milk their cattle produced. Farmers were forced to milk their cows in the presence of the tax collector. To avoid paying the tax, the farmer would only partially milkthe cows while the tax man was there. Once he'd left, the cows were re-milked. The remaining milk was much higher in fat and was reserved by the family for personal cheese making. After the revolution the tax was removed.

Roquefort. Folklore aside (2000 years ago love struck shepherd leaves his bread and cheese lunch in a cave while romancing, and returns to find it covered in a greenish mold), Roquefort, the most sublimely delicious sheep milk cheese EVER (think you don’t like blue cheese, put down that dressing and get thee to a cheese shop NOW), has been aged in the limestone caves of Cambalou, Southern France for centuries. In 1411, Charles VI signed a charter granting the people of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon the right to make Roquefort cheese. In a testament to terroir and the perilous way many of our traditional foods cling to existence, the specific strain of bacteria naturally occurring in the caves of Cambalou are also named for the cheese they help produce: penicillium roqueforti. All of this story telling does however have me stuck in a chicken or egg mind trap. What came first, the village, or the cheese? Easy or not? I’ll let you decide!

Emmental. Ah, the great melting cheese. I’m not going to cover its famous cousin here. Gruyère has a somewhat obscure, and very confusing, if fascinating etymology. Reasons of brevity cause me to walk on by, and well, “You know how to (Google), don’t you, Steve?”  Emmental, or Emmentaler, traces its origins back to 1293. However, the name was first recognized in 1542 when the recipe was given to the people of Langehthal in the Emme valley.

Comté. Produced for centuries in the region of eastern France known as, “Franche- Comté.” Could it be that easy? Yes, until you consider its alternate name, “Gruyère de Comté.” OK, I’ll stop teasing. Gruyère is purported to be named after the town of Gruyères in Switzerland. Sounds plausible until you consider that Gruyère also refers to the forests in Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire (which covered what is now France, Switzerland, and parts of Germany), over a millennium ago. Charlemagne’s men sold the forest wood to the local cheesemakers to fire the kettles they used to cook the curd for the cheese we know as Gruyère. Easy, non?

Stilton. Pop Quiz - named after the town in which it was made, or the town in which it was first sold? During the early eighteenth century, the town of Stilton was a staging post (town used to change/rest horses along the roads connecting major towns) on the London to York road. Cooper Thornhill, the landlord of the Bell Inn in Stilton, began serving a local soft, blue-veined cheese made in the neighboring town of Melton Mowbray (also famous for its Pork Pies also granted PDO - Protected Designation of Origin, by the European Union), Leicestershire. So you see, Stilton was in fact named after the town in which it was popularly sold, and not the town in which it was made. If it had been the reverse, what would have been the name of the famous Melton Mowbray Pork Pie? I once broke a tooth on a pork pie while on a childhood camping trip. Not a lot of people know that! The PDO control of Stilton means only three counties in England may produce a cheese called Stilton. I carry the Colston Basset variety. Yum!

Cheddar. I left the most complicated one until last! Easy when you consider that Cheddar originates from the village of Cheddar, in Somerset, South West England (AKA, “The West Country”). Cheddar Gorge (mentioned above), is on the outskirts of Cheddar village, and contains a number of natural caves, which provided the ideal humidity and constant temperature for maturing the cheese.  Cheddar cheese traditionally had to be made within 30 miles of Wells Cathedral. Easy when you consider that the name Cheddar also refers to the curd-cutting technique of repeated cutting and stacking, and draining of the curd blocks necessary to produce this type of cheese – “Cheddaring.”  Not so easy when you consider that in the domain of name protected foods (pun intended!), tragically, the name Cheddar was never protected. As such there are as many types of cheese named cheddar as there are ways to categorize (and hence name) cheeses! More in fact! Consider also that the history of Cheddar - a cheese that is very much part of the old world, is intimately tied up with cheeses in the new world American colonies. Cheddar etymology is very complicated! The European Union has designated a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin – a name protection) of, “West Country Farmhouse Cheddar” to denote cheddars that are made in a specific region of England that remain true to the historically accurate method of cheddar production and the resulting cheese. This type of cheddar is rugged, bound in lard and cloth, with many fissures where mold intrudes from the rough rind. This is the cheddar seen on medieval banquet tables! This type of cheddar is oft returned to the cheese shop because it is moldy! The history of Cheddar is a fascinating, complicated tale worthy of a PBS special. I shall return to Cheddar as an article in its own right. I also eagerly anticipate the release of Gordon (Zola) Edgar's new book on Cheddar, due out in 2012.

Now we turn back to the new world – the Americas (all apologies to our Antipodean friends!). The development of cheese production in the Americas is closely tied in with the colonies and with the expansion of settlement in the emerging country, together with the great cheeses of the old world. I will return to this in a separate article on Cheddar. For our purposes here, I will broadly claim that in order to understand our rapidly evolving numbers of American artisanal and farmstead cheeses, we firstly need to acknowledge the work and role of the American Cheese Society. Please visit their website and join this very important organization. Our enjoyment of fine cheeses in the USA is due to their efforts over the past thirty years. Also support independent cheese shops whom are members of The American Cheese Society. Ask them!
So, in brief I will say in order to understand naming of new world cheeses, firstly seek to understand the main types of great old world cheeses since our American cheeses are mostly based on some type of great old world cheese. This is a generalization of course. To the credit of The American Cheese Society’s work, American cheeses are evolving quickly. For now, at least it still helps to consider which type of old world cheese the American cheese is based on. Steve Jenkins' 1996 book, "The Cheese Primer" contains one of the most complete sections on, "The Great Cheeses" of the (old) world (pages 473 - 517). Another frame of reference, as I mentioned above, is that often the name of the individual farm, or dairy, is prefixed to the name of the new world cheese. A third frame of reference is the quirky pattern of naming the cheeses after the personality traits of the cheesemaker. Cato Corner Farm in Connecticut has some fine farmstead cheeses with an equally high caliber naming convention – cheesemaker Mark Gillman's love of James Joyce. 

Congratulations, we made it to the end of the article. How're you feeling? Overwhelmed? Tired? Confused? Enlightened? Hungry? In conclusion, my advice when it comes to understanding, heck, remembering, cheese names, is the same as I give to the panic stricken new hire at the cheese counter. Find a frame of reference that works for you. For me it’s as much about geography as it is methods of production. Use that as your yardstick, and work your way out from there, tasting indiscriminately as you build your own mind map! Use the tools available to you: books, articles, Google, and so forth. Rehoboth Beach Cheese Company’s Virtual Cheesemonger tool in development now will help guide you through methods of classifying cheese based on texture, milk type, country of origin, suggested use, and so on. What’s that if not a naming convention?

At the end of the cheese platter (that's my, "Bacchanalia Platter" pictured above!), there is no easy answer to your question. A knowledgeable guide helps, but what it all comes down to, is, well, a matter of taste. Do you want a story with that?

Andy Meddick, for the Rehoboth Beach Cheese Company.

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