May 17, 2012

Spelunking in Manhattan: Exploring The One Of A Kind Cheese Caves of Artisanal Cheeses

Hard Cheese Cave
For those not familiar with the word spelunking, it's the technical name for cave exploring. Not a sport many are familiar with, especially in New York City. When my invite to explore cheese caves in Manhattan, attend a class and talk cheese with Maitre Fromager, Max McCalman came, I responded immediately with, "You had me at cheese." Now before you go getting all these images in your heads of folks in miner hats, down in the bowels underneath Manhattan, aging cheese in the dark, we're not talking that type of cheese cave. You guys are too funny. We're are talking high tech.. Technically a cheese cave is any environmentally controlled room that houses cheese in varying degrees of aging. And yes, some of these cheeses are actually aged in real caves before arriving at Artisanal. The beauty of the process here, is that Artisanal get the cheeses at certain ages and stages in the aging process and can control them and nurture them to peak affinage. As Max
Brie Cheese Cave
explained to me, 'It gives us more control. We can absolutely insure that the customer will get a particular cheese as close to that cheese's peak as possible." As a epicure and lover of cheese, of course I am familiar with locations of other cheese caves in the city, some in stores, some in restaurant alcoves, but these are some of the finest you'll find anywhere and the only ones of their kind in the United States. Artisanal has taken aging and making craft cheeses available to a national cheese loving public to a whole other level.

Stinky Cheese Cave
Because different cheeses age at different rates and in different climates, each of their caves is tailored to provide the ideal conditions for the type of cheese it nourishes. They divide cheeses into five categories: goat, blue, washed rind, bloomy rind, and tome, in their state of the art facility, the only one of its kind in the country, featuring five colossal caves, custom-designed and constructed to control temperature and humidity to one-tenth of a degree! Once they receive the gourmet artisanal cheeses from producers all over the world, they have the unique equipment and knowledge required to age each one to perfection in the ideal conditions.

Goat Cheese Cave
It all started in 1993, when a small, elegant cheese cart started offering the highest quality artisan hand-crafted cheeses to dining guests at Picholine, the New York City restaurant where things began under the watchful eye of Chef Terrance Brennan. The intrigue in the dining room stirred as "the cheese cart" and its Maitre Fromager, Max McCalman, went table to table explaining the different cheeses to dining guests, answering questions and offering the perfect wine pairing suggestions. McCalman later established the critically acclaimed cheese programs at Artisanal Brasserie & Fromagerie restaurant, followed by the Artisanal Cheese Center, both in New York City. Picholine, Artisanal Brasserie and the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center created on-site "caves" to nurture cheeses to their peak stages of ripeness. This helped to create their world-renowned reputations for offering fabulous cheeses.

Max McCalman
Max McCalman is America's first restaurant-based Maître Fromager, and Garde et Jure as designated by France's Guilde des Fromagers. McCalman, a veteran of the food and hospitality industries, spent most of his professional life as a Maître d' Hotel and Sommelier. McCalman co-authored 3 books with David Gibbons which were nominated for awards by the James Beard Foundation and by the International Association of Cooking Professionals. Their second book won a 2006 James Beard Award and the third was nominated for "Best in the World" books on cheese by Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
As Dean of Curriculum and Maître Fromager at Artisanal Premium Cheese Center, McCalman leads the charge to raise awareness and spread the joys of cheese to consumers and professionals. He is a highly visible advocate for artisanal cheese production and is renowned as one of the cheese world's living legends for his expertise, insight and passion. McCalman is a regular contributor to Cheese Connoisseur and to Culture magazines. In 2010 McCalman was selected by an international jury of the French Food Spirit Awards for his contribution to the international understanding of French food culture. That same year, he received an Odyssey award for Special Projects from Hendrix College. Max produces a series of 'how to' instructional videos, covering not only the basics of cheese, but proper tasting techniques, cheese care and he is a regular speaker at Artisanal's Master Classes.

The Artisanal Cheese Center has hosted thousands of patrons that have come to their classes to hear the faculty teach about cheese. Many of the leading cheese experts in the country have trained here and have used this platform of excellence to develop wonderfully successful careers. Each tasting class lasts approximately 90 minutes and is preceded by a 30 minute welcome reception featuring sparking wine, classic fondue and cheese platters. Mingle, relax and enjoy the ease and elegance of Artisanal. A mix of innovative classes and instruction, Artisanal offers a Craft Beer pairings classes as well as the Scotch class described below.

Single & Blended Scotch with Cheese
Scotch Class
There are many different assumptions made regarding the ideal pairing partners for cheeses. Wine is probably the most-frequently cited partner, and within that category there are differences of opinions on which types work best. Beer makes the ideal cheese partner for many other people. Yet for those who enjoy Scotch whiskey, do they enjoy it alone, or do fine cheeses have the capacity to enhance the Scotch experience? The connoisseurs of Scotch know that the diversity of Scotch whiskeys is vast; it is not just single malts and blends. In this session you will learn about production methods that distinguish Scotch styles while tasting these delicious whiskeys alongside perfectly ripened cheeses. One of the best ways to appreciate the individual characteristics of these legendary whiskeys is to savor them alongside a range of artisanal cheeses.

Master Class
This intensive two-day seminar is specially designed for cheese lovers and industry professionals. The Artisanal Premium Cheese Master Class covers the entire world of cheese, from milk types to cheese-making, affinage to appreciation, placing an emphasis on selection, proper storage and care, service and handling, the nutritive values, as well as wine pairings and the economics of cheeses in the retail and restaurant environment. This class is for the enthusiast and the food-service professional alike.

Master Class
The seminar kicks off on Sunday morning at the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center for an introduction to the class and a tour and explanation of the workings of the state-of-the-art cheese caves. The seminar will proceed to two days filled with instruction, tasting and evaluating cheeses led by acclaimed Max McCalman, Artisanal's Dean of Curriculum and the award-winning author of The Cheese Plate and Cheese, a Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best, and Mastering Cheese and Maître Fromager of the Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro and Picholine.

Students should plan on tasting and learning about close to one hundred cheeses over the course of the seminar and learning more than they ever thought they could about cheese! This intensive series is condensed into two days to make it easier for out-of-town students to plan to attend. Upon completion of the seminar, students receive a certificate, recognized industry-wide. Class Times: Sunday - Monday 9:00AM - 6:45 PM For a complete Schedule of available classes click click here. Please note that enrollment is limited to 20 students - sign up today!

Private Events
Artisanal Premium Cheese Center's beautifully appointed Manhattan event space offers a contemporary setting for any occasion.
  • 1400 square foot event space featuring a reception area and adjoining main room
  • Fully equipped, state-of-the-art open demonstration kitchen with Viking ovens and range and All-Clad copper cookware
  • Audiovisual equipment includes two plasma screens and video capabilities
  • Selection of over 200 perfectly aged artisan cheeses from the on-site caves
  • Experienced fromagers and sommeliers to lead cheese and wine tastings

Affineurs individually cut and pack each cheese to order. They specially wrap and ship all packages so they arrive in perfect condition. Each order is packaged in insulated cartons, fitted with gel ice packs and cushioned with packing peanuts to ensure quality standards for up to 48 hours. All orders are shipped to arrive overnight by FedEx. You will receive your order one day after the ship date which in most cases is one day after your order date. Your order arrives in perfect condition with Fromager notes and display tags. I have seen the dedication and care that goes into the cheeses and process at Artisanal first hand and I can attest to the fact that these people love cheese. On the day I visited the caves, even though there was a full class that night and despite the fact that these people deal day in and day out with pungent aromas of cheese permeating the air, and despite the fact that they breath, eat, sleep, talk and dream cheese, they were all excited. They hurried me back in to the rear offices to partake in what is a Friday afternoon ritual. Yup, you guessed it, the Staff Cheese Tasting, where each week, they taste the new cheeses that have arrived from all over the world. Who was I to say no. Like I said, these people love cheese. So do I.

Bon Appetit

Sources; All pics courtesy of

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