“You’re not walking into your normal cheddars tonight, ladies,” Rebekah, Elm City Market’s head cheese clerk warned us, as we took our seats with a newfound seriousness and prepared for the tasty sampling ahead. On the evening of Wed., Jan. 28, Rebekah, or “The Cheese Monger,” as she prefers to be called, welcomed about 40 Yalies and New Haven residents to ECM’s biggest monthly cheese event yet. Having given up my dining hall swipe for a night of free cheddar, I went a little overboard on the pre-tasting assortment of crostini crackers, dark chocolate, cookies, grapes, and collection of fig and cherry jam spreads that lay on the table. Perhaps a more refined palate would’ve known to wait for the cheeses to make the appropriate pairings.
Once we settled in and started munching on our snacks, Rebekah began the evening. “Cheddar,” she winked midsentence, “originates from the village of Cheddar in Somerset, England.” The tradition carried over to Wisconsin, where cheddar production first began in the United States, and has since been consistently one of the most popular cheeses in the market. She described the process of cheddaring: “the milling and pulling of curds” and added acidity, which makes cheddar a sharp and versatile cheese. Though none of us quite realized the sort of history/microbiology lesson we had signed up for, we were nonetheless well on our way to becoming cheddar connoisseurs by the end of the evening. Rebekah, with jumbled, illegible notes in hand, announced, “Tonight, ladies and gentleman, we have a surprise guest…the goat cheddar.” Though her inordinately long dramatic pause didn’t have quite the effect she hoped for, we perked up over this unusual new breed.
Soon enough Rebekah deemed us amateurs ready to taste the four carefully curated cheeses ahead, preparing our palates for the goat cheese grand finale. Sampling the two-year-old Grafton cheddar cube, Vikram Dhawan, ES ’18, pursed his lips and said, “I don’t call myself a connoisseur. But this one is a lot to take in.” Ali Golden, TC ’17, approached her sampling experience differently, carefully placing her Grafton cheddar cube on a cracker thinly coated in tangy fig jam. “I’d say I’m a cheddar enthusiast, but I don’t want to be exclusive,” she explained tactfully.
While the surprise goat cheddar ended up being the favorite of the evening, it certainly stirred up some controversy among tasters. While some couldn’t believe it was cheddar at all, others embraced this new trend with delight. “This is the most flavorful cheese. I don’t even want any spread with it,” declared Sammy Bensinger, BK ’17. While I am slightly concerned with the sheer amount of dairy I managed to gobble down that evening, I was thrilled to learn that these tastings are monthly, and eager to join Rebekah on February’s cheese journey: “Don’t Let Blue Cheese Make You Blue.”