Q&A with Elena Santogade ACS CCP®
I first met Elena in early 2013 when she was a Monger at Beecher’s New York location in the Flatiron District. Kurt and Jena, my pals at Beecher’s invited me to come by and taste their then, new washed rind cheese made at that location and named after the neighborhood. Elena graciously gave me a tour of the facility and sent me home with a gorgeous wedge and a jar of Anarchy in a Jar’s Strawberry Preserves. You can read my review of Flatiron here.
Now, three year’s later, Elena agreed to participate in my Virtual Q&A with Cheese Professionals.
1.) Briefly tell me about yourself. How did you come to cheese? When did you realize you were a cheese geek?
I came to cheese in 2004, when I first moved back to NYC after college. I didn’t know anyone in the city yet, so I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to socialize in that first year here. I often found myself visiting cheese shops, just as much to chat with the mongers and learn about cheese as to taste and enjoy it. It was something I really just gravitated to, and I quickly became a regular at a few shops around town. From there I eventually made my way to working the cheese counter at Bklyn Larder and I was quickly hooked!
2.) Why did you want to become a CCP? How has it changed your cheese life or career path?
I wanted to become a CCP mostly because it seemed like a great framework for more cheese study. When I studied for the exam I’d been avidly seeking out all the information I could about cheese, so when an opportunity came up to take a more structured approach –and to get an exciting potential payoff– I jumped at it.
3.) Where do you work and what is your job title? Describe a “typical” work day.
I am currently the Tri-State Regional Sales Manager for Grafton Village Cheese. No two days are the same, but for the most part my time is split between visiting current and potential accounts in the NYC-area (NY/CT/NJ/PA) and doing strategic sales and marketing planning and follow-up. I’m one of a team of Grafton Village Cheese sales managers around the country, and we all work together and with the operations team in Vermont on our shared goals.
4.) Do you have a favorite cheese or type? What would be your perfect pairing with this cheese?
It depends on the time of day! First thing in the morning and last thing at night I gravitate toward creamy blue cheeses. Cheddar is a major go-to cheese for me in the afternoons or I’ll often have it as part of lunch or dinner. One of my favorite pairings for both of these cheeses is black coffee, believe it or not. Try it if you haven’t already!
5.) Raw vs. Pasteurized? Does it matter? What difference does it make in the final product?
When I was the buyer at Beecher’s NYC I had a chance to focus completely on curating a domestic selection. At that time, most of the American cheesemakers were making pasteurized milk cheeses and I developed a respect for what cheesemakers today can do with pasteurized milk. That said, I consistently find that aged raw milk cheeses have an unparalleled complexity of flavor. I love a raw aged clothbound Cheddar, with all of its savory, fruity, earthy components, and I enjoy noting how raw milk cheeses really do change in character from season to season.
I don’t think it’s necessary in the U.S., and it might even hurt the elements of American cheesemaking that make this country one of the most exciting in the industry right now: originality, constant innovation and the freedom to experiment!
7.) 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?
One of my favorite cheese-focused trips I’ve taken was –like many great cheeses– a total accident. I was on a bicycling trip through England with a friend of mine, and the weather was a lot colder than we’d expected. We wound up stopping in almost every pub we biked past so that we could warm up, and I started ordering cheese and beer at every stop. The English cheddars totally blew me away! I was amazed by the cheeses, and by the beers. By the end I was into cheese on a much deeper level.
8.) Please share with me one fun, non-cheesy fact about you.
I play the trombone!
9.) If you could do one thing, anything, all day long, what would it be?
When I’ve run retail operations the answer might most often have been “Sleep!”, but for the most part my real answer is: exactly what I already do! Taste, talk and think about cheese!
You can check out Elena’s bio here.
Elena, thanks so much for taking the time; it is appreciated!!
Interviews with Cheese Professionals continue through 2016… sometimes, as “stand-alone” interviews and sometimes as round-table discussions with several Pros answering the same question. Those participating include Cheesemakers, ACS CCPs™,Cheesemongers and Cheese Experts who contribute to this Wonderful World we call “Cheese”.
List of 2015-16 Cheese Professionals.
List of all Cheese Professionals Bios.
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