Meet Tia Keenan, Chef Fromager and Food Industry Consultant – Marcella The Cheesemonger International Guilde des Fromagers
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Meet Tia Keenan, Chef Fromager and Food Industry Consultant

Tia Keenan, Chef Fromage. Photo Copyright Sandra Johnson 2015.

Tia Keenan, Chef Fromage. Photo Copyright Sandra Johnson 2015.

Another “friend” via Facebook… while traveling opening Murray’s Cheese Shops, I spent a lot of time at their Flagship store in Greenwich Village. When Rob (Kaufelt) opened The Cheese Bar down a few doors on Bleecker, he hired Tia to consult and assist him in shaping his vision . Finally, Tia and I had the chance to meet and share our love of cheese over her tasty version of pimento cheese. Since that time, Tia has begun a family and is currently editing her upcoming book for Rizzoli Publishing which will be published in the fall of 2016. (Looking forward to her book which will feature cheese pairings.)

Tia graciously agreed to answer questions for my 2015 Q&A with Cheese Professionals – thanks for taking the time!!

  • Briefly tell me about yourself. How did you come to cheese? When did you realize you were a cheese geek?

“I came to cheese through working in fine dining restaurants in NYC in the early 2000’s. Whenever the opportunity to run a cheese program would come up I’d assume I’d be fighting 10 other candidates for the privilege.  But at the time it just wasn’t on people’s radars.  So I’d be like “Pick me! Pick me!” and look around and see that no one else wanted the job!  I felt so lucky — like I’d discovered this amazing thing before everyone else caught on.  It was awesome.”

  • Where do you work and what is your job title? Describe a “typical” work day.

“I work for myself as a consultant.  At this stage in my career some of my projects are about cheese, and some of my projects are more broadly about food.  I do everything from consulting chef work to management consulting and growth strategy.  In 2014 I had a baby as well, so that’s been a big focus for me.”

  • Do you have a favorite cheese or type? What would be your perfect pairing with this cheese?

“I definitely prefer washed rind and harder, aged, cheeses. I want robust flavor, interesting texture.  But I guess really my favorite cheese is cheese that’s well made.  If I’m eating cheese I want it to be excellent.  I want it to mean something in the sense that it represents a time and place.  You can taste that and that’s what I want to experience.”

  • Raw vs. Pasteurized? Does it matter? What difference does it make in the final product?

“Ok.  Above all, if the cheese isn’t well made, and the animals aren’t properly cared for, it doesn’t matter if it’s a raw or pasteurized cheese.  That being said, I absolutely do think it matters, and here’s why:

  1. There’s a complexity of flavor in ALL foods that have been handled less, processed less. The vegetables from my CSA have better flavor than even the vegetables at the farmer’s market, because they’ve been touched by fewer hands. Milk is a living thing.  We are starting to understand that all living things react to their environment, to touch, to the ways in which they are needed and used. 

Pasteurized milk tastes differently not just because of the very concrete, scientific ways we know pasteurization alters the milk – it tastes differently because it’s soul, it’s purpose, it’s direction has been altered. 

 I don’t care who thinks this is a wacky idea.  I’ve been lactating and breastfeeding for a year and I can confirm this about my own milk. 

  1. The cheesemakers who place using raw milk at the center of their cheesemaking value system tend to make cheeses that I connect to in terms of flavor and spirit.

But remember:  the cheese has to be good!  I’ve had bad raw milk cheeses and good pasteurized cheeses, and vice versa.”

 

  • Should the US create a system similar the European scheme of protecting, controlling and/or regulating specific cheeses?

“I don’t think the federal government is capable of “protecting” anything but Big Cheese. 

I think American artisan cheesemakers need to drive their own growth (they always have).  I think they need to stop using protected (European) names, and in general show some respect for European protections, with the understanding that one gets respect by giving respect.  This is a part of evolving and maturing our own American cheesemaking culture. I get that in the “beginning” one needed to call a cheese “Brie” so that the American consumer could understand what it was.  But it’s different now, and we can find better ways to market what we’re producing domestically. 

There’s also so many ways that this country is not like Europe. The U.S. is geographically huge!  It’s not easy to organize in terms of distance, climate, etc.  I’d like to see a national organization, with state chapters, that exists to define and promote the geography of American artisan cheese.  Its role would be to lobby for and protect the culture of American artisan cheese.  I have no idea how this would be funded, and want to acknowledge that it’s super annoying for anyone (like a cheesemaker) to be told what they need to be doing by someone who isn’t one (like me).”

  • Tell me about one of your “cheese journeys”. Was it traveling for pleasure or maybe “on the hunt” for an obscure cheese you just had to taste?

“I’ve been on so many, I’m so lucky. 

The Alps in June!  What can I say?  Want to taste what a PLACE tastes like?  Go.  Or making Panela in the mountains in Mexico with an old woman who’s been doing that her entire life, how can any cheese bought in a shop (even a great shop) ever compare? It can’t.  Travelling in my husband’s country of Macedonia (former Yugoslavia), visiting small dairies that are being bought up by big conglomerates.  Tasting cheeses that won’t be here in five years.  Feeling a sadness and loss I can’t even begin to describe.  But then also making cheese in that same country with a woman in her kitchen, at dawn, using the wooden molds passed on to her from her great-great-grandmother. Knowing in my bones that cheesemaking is timeless and so much at the center of what being human is, and in this way will never disappear. That’s the journey.”

  • Please share with me one fun, non-cheesy fact about you.

“I’m a documentary film fanatic, and in general love movies.  Mike Leigh and I have the same birthday, which is one of the reasons why I think I connect to his work so much.”

  • If you could do one thing, anything, all day long, what would it be?

“Cook, feed, eat, tell stories and listen to the stories of the people I love.  Take breaks to read books, listen to music, watch films, make love.  Make some art alone or with other people.  These are many things, I suppose, but they are “one” thing in the sense that combined they make for a great life.”

Check out Tia’s complete bio here.

You can follow Tia at twitter and pinterest.

My thanks to everyone participating in my 2015 Virtual Q&A with Cheese Professionals. I hope all of you, my loyal readers, are enjoying this as much as I am…

Interviews with All Cheese Professionals: Cheesemakers and Cheese Professionals

Interviews will continue throughout 2015… sometimes, they will be “stand-alone” and sometimes they will be presented as round-table discussions with several Cheese Professionals answering the same question. Those participating includeCheesemakers, ACS CCPs™, Cheesemongers and Cheese Professionals and Experts who contribute to this Wonderful World we call “Cheese”.

List of all Interviews from 2013: Cheesemakers, Cheesemongers.

List of 2015 Cheese Professionals.

List of all Cheese Professionals Bios.

Please “Like” MarcellaTheCheesemonger Page on FaceBook.

Taking the 2015 Exam? Please see my page on Tips for Studying for the Exam. Want support? Come join our 2015 Cheese Study Group.

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