Take a cue from creative retailers and serve your cheese with some playful prose
Cheese descriptions generally don’t make for exciting reading: nutty, buttery, creamy, stinky, yawn. But there are signs, quite literally, that cheesemongers are shaking up such ho-hum cheese talk with clever, offbeat tasting notes that reference everything from pop culture to proposals.
Sheri LaVigne, owner of the Calf & Kid in Seattle’s new Melrose Market, is one of several retailers gaining a reputation for often-hilarious tasting descriptions of the cheeses in their case. LaVigne was inspired to be creative with not-so-serious cheese notes by the wordplay she’d seen in Bedford Cheese Shop in Brooklyn. The shop’s tasting cards were engaging and funny, often irreverent, too. “I was a total cheese novice at the time,” she recalls. “Their notes reflected the friendly, jovial nature of the employees, and made the shop feel less intimidating. But they also kept me entertained while I was waiting to be helped.”
When LaVigne opened her Seattle shop in April 2010, she wanted to duplicate that experience for her customers. “Even if [the description] is not very specific in terms of flavor or texture, people will remember a cheese if a note makes them laugh. Humor is a common denominator and a great icebreaker that leaves cheesemongers room to talk about the product in real detail once a note has drawn people in,” she explains. And the joke can also help them remember a cheese. “Our Domaine du Vallage note just says, ‘This is a cheese you’d leave your boyfriend for,’” LaVigne adds, “and customers are always asking for the ‘boyfriend cheese.’” (It’s Les Fromagers de Chevillon, from France, by the way.)
Of course, not all cheesemongers believe notes should be nontraditional. Formal descriptions can provide pertinent information, such as how long a cheese has been aged and its origin, milk, or producer (for the record, LaVigne does include that information, as well). Other cheesemongers prefer to limit notes to name of cheese and price and communicate additional information to customers through conversation. Says LaVigne, “I see merits to all of these methods, but it’s my prerogative to keep everything about my shop accessible, down-to-earth, and fun.” Case in point: for Pondhopper, a semihard goat’s milk cheese from Tumalo Farms in Bend, Oregon (tumalofarms.com), LaVigne’s description says the cheese is “sweet, floral, and bathed in beer, like a prom date you’ll never forget.”
If her customers miss the familiarity of standard cheese descriptions, they don’t show it. Says LaVigne, “Almost daily, I’ll get someone who says they’re just looking. But once they peruse the case, they’ll ask if they can ‘taste that cheese that makes you want to get down on one knee and propose to it.’ Even if they don’t buy, I’ve hopefully given them a memorable experience.”
Games at Home
Liven up your next cheese party by creating playful tasting notes of your own, or have guests suggest ideas—a glass or two of wine or beer might help, as well as some oddball prizes for the cleverest characterizations.
Give each guest a list of your cheese selections with all of the pertinent information, a stack of blank cards (hit a stationery store that sells individual sheets of stock), and a small notebook, so they can record their favorite tastes and brainstorm fun metaphors that relate to those experiences.
When it comes to tapping into your creativity, LaVigne suggests going for adjectives and concepts that are “sassy, concise, and convey an emotional and sensory response.” Her description of Valentine cheese from Ancient Heritage Dairy in Scio, Oregon, is a perfect example: “Rich, buttery, with a texture like satin: If Barry White had a cheese baby, this would be it.”
As I’ve written before, I love that American cheesemongers are bringing wit to the table.