It’s Sunday Morning: Time to Talk Cheeses – Interview with Craig Gile of Cabot Creamery
Cabot Creamery is a 1,200 farm family dairy cooperative with members in New England and upstate New York. It is owned by its members and adheres to the Rochdale Cooperative Principles in every aspect of its operations.
When we began formulating our Meet the Cheesemaker series, I tasked The Lady to send out emails to our Cheese Swell friends, asking for interviews. Our friend, Wendy Scherer, at Cabot Creamery wrote back suggesting Craig Gile, who has the enviable job of grading cheese at the creamery. Can you imagine… tasting as many as 200 cheeses a day… cheese heaven… I was thrilled with the idea of learning about a new facet of cheesemaking and aging and sharing Craig’s knowledge and experience.
Spaulding Gray: First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions today. I know that my loyal readers will be especially interested in your career as a cheese grader.
You were a judge recently at the World Cheese Championships. I’d love to hear about your experience and what a judge’s duties include. I’m not very familiar with judging… so take us through the process.
Craig Gile: At a recent cheese event, I had the pleasure of speaking to a culture salesman who had recently returned to the cheese industry after spending almost a decade working in pharmaceuticals. After circling the event a couple of times his only response was, “Wow, I forgot how passionate every last person in the cheese world is!” This latest contest was an opportunity to share this passion with some of the world’s most interesting and diverse turophiles.
Getting our toes wet….
The judging group consisted of roughly 20 teams of judges with each team made up of one United States judge and one international judge. The judge pairings were assigned a number of categories in which they would be responsible for evaluating some of the world’s best entries over the next 3 days. On the morning of the first day, our expert contest organizers spend time going over grading procedures for each style of cheese and breaking down how the new computerized scoring system works. Any cheese selected for a medal becomes an instant celebrity so the judges strive to maintain the appearance of the cheese during the grading process while taking a sample that is significant enough to perform a proper evaluation.
Over the next three days, I evaluated roughly 40 entries each day with my fascinating contest partner from Finland. We sniffed, peered, rubbed, cut, spooned, cored, tasted, and scratched our chins over each and every entry. I cannot express how lucky we were to be able to sample so many amazing cheeses. On the final day, the gold medal winners from each category compete in a semi-finals round in order to whittle the field to a final “sweet 16″.
The televised final judging took place in front of a sold out gala where attendees were able to sample many of the contest entries that did not make it into the “sweet 16″.
Spaulding: How did you get into cheese grading? Tell us about a typical day at Cabot Creamery grading cheese? How do you grade cheese?
Craig: I like to say I began my career in the dairy industry at the age of 6 when I started milking cows on the Gile family dairy farm. I originally worked at Cabot in quality control until the cheese grading position became available. Having been an avid fan of craft beers and having known many in that industry, I found people with cheese grading experience held the same kind of rare passion towards their industry.
Cabot’s most successful cheddars are typically long aged. This requires a large amount of warehouse space spread over VT, Massachusetts, and New York. The Cabot grading program requires numerous gradings of each and every vat as the graders determine how best to fill every product profile need. A typical day of grading includes between 150-200 samples. This information is entered into our giant cheese database and summaries are sent out to numerous departments throughout the organization.
Along with my trusty cheese triers, plug wax, water bottle, and mold inhibitor, I grade with all previous grades and lab analyticals from each sample. This allows me to track how well a cheddar has matured since it’s last grading and if there are any defects, how the lab data may explain it. With so many samples requiring a graders attention each day, I find a deep quiver of playlists on my iPhone is a must to keep me pumped up and excited during the later vats.
SG: What is your favorite grilled cheese combination?
CG: Like any cheese fanatic with a fridge filled with more cheese than I could ever fully use, innovative grilled cheese and mac ‘n cheese recipes are a must. One of my favorites is:
1. Sauté a small amount of garlic, then mix with butter. Use this mix on the outside of your bread.
2. Sauté equal parts jalapenos and caramelized onions together.
3. Two strips of very thick cut bacon.
4. Mix 3 parts shredded young Swiss or young gouda and 1 part aged cheddar, like Cabot 2-Year Vintage.
5. Put it all together, grill, and enjoy.
6. Pull yourself out of your food coma and hit your favorite gym, walking path, or recreational sport before you realize how many calories you just consumed.
Spaulding: How far have you traveled to find an obscure cheese or a cheese dish you were told you had to try? What was it?
Craig: While the local-avore restaurant idea is still budding in many areas of the States, the idea of using all local ingredients has been going strong in the Quebec Province for some time. During a trek to Quebec City, I was told that I had to try the preserved rabbit kidney and braised celery with blue cheese from Le Echaude. The cheese was a semi-soft blue named le blue de brebis from local cheesemakers Famille Migneron Charlevoix. Having turned off my phone’s GPS to avoid outrageous roaming charges, I searched frantically all over the city following roughly translated directions until I found the amazing place. It was the perfect start to one of the richest French meals I’ve ever enjoyed
SG: What cheese would you pair with Sciurus griseus? And what beer or wine would you choose to accompany your pairing?
Spaulding: How would you grade Velveeta and what grade would you give it?
Craig: The last time I remember trying Velveeta, I remember thinking it was very slight sweet, slightly lipase, and weak bodied. While some might take this opportunity to hate on the cheese giant, it does serve an important function in the cheese world ecology. Smaller cheese companies are able to sell off lesser quality product to process cheese plants. This extra sales avenue can help maintain higher cheese quality in these smaller companies while softening the financial impact.
Spaulding: Craig, again thanks for taking the time to chat with me. I especially like you “take” on Velveeta and it’s contribution to cheesemaking in the last question.