5 Questions with The Art of the Cheese Plate’s Tia Keenan

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The Art of the Cheese Plate author Tia Keenan and I first met when she was the original Chef Fromager of Caselulla. It was cheese-love at first sight. I learned she hand-made the hundreds of condiments she paired to every cheese on the menu and offered to work for free for her if she would let me eat spoonfuls of the bacon ganache she made for Winnimere. But it was when she posted pics on Twitter of beaming guests holding signs saying “I was wrong, I really do like goat cheese!” that a deep and true cheese love developed. Recently Tia published a book with Rizzoli Press. Its photography and recipes for cheese condiments (matcha marshmallows, anyone?) puts it in my top 10 cheese book list. Check it out. In honor of her beautiful book, here are 5 Questions with Tia Keenan. One of which involves pairing cheese to Detective Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks. Because why stop with preserves?

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5 Questions with The Art of the Cheese Plate’s Tia Keenan

What cheese and condiments would you pair to the upcoming 2016 presidential inauguration?

Well, if Trump wins I will have lost my appetite.  So I’ll pair his inauguration with me gasping for air. And if Hillary wins I’ll mostly be wishing I were serving a bounty of Vermont artisan cheeses in honor of President Bernie.  I’ll have to go with all American cheeses, obviously.  I’d love to work with First Nations and Native Americans cooks to create some condiments using native ingredients. But most likely I’ll be home alone, with a sleeping babe upstairs, too reflective and fired up to eat much of anything.  

 

Your son is two years old. You’ve been in the cheese business for years, have visited international cheese regions and producers all over the country, and have a library of cheese books. But what have you learned about cheese from having a child?

Well, I lactated for 32 months, so that brought me closer to the means of production of cheese than I’ve ever been before. I think feeding my child with milk from my body for a couple of years just connected me in a much deeper way to the animals themselves, and to the gift that is milk. I now intimately understand why someone would cry over spilt milk – because I’ve done it!  

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You’re allowed to bring 10 things with you to a desert island that you’ll be trapped on for four months (somehow your toddler will be able to come visit a lot so no worries). All of them are cheese and best pairings. What would you bring?

Ugh.  What a Sophie’s Choice! Damn you, Kirstin! [Sorry, Tia. Had to be done]

  1. Serra da Estrella with Pumpkin or Tomato Jam and really great Portuguese bread
  2. Adelegger with Wheat Beer, preferably brewed by the cheesemaker
  3. Romadur with Dill, Red Onions, Vinegar and Fried Toast
  4. Franklin’s Teleme with a spoon, nothing more
  5. Meadowood Farms Juvindale with plain potato chips http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/how-to/article/cheese-potato-chip-pairings,
  6. Tomme de Chevre Aydius with Carrot Halwa
  7. Kaymak from my husband’s ancestral land of FYR Macedonia (not technically cheese – more like clotted cream – but I love it)
  8.  Trader Joe’s Jalapeno Pub Cheese – don’t hate
  9. Grevenbroecker with Roasted Grapes
  10. Havarti with Dill, because it’ll remind me of childhood and help me feel comforted from the panic of being stuck on a desert island!

You have so many delicious pairings in your book. What about bombs? Where there any duos that you hoped would stay together forever but had no chemistry in person? Are you still glad you introduced them?

I really don’t buy into the concept of “bombs”.  Are there pairings that don’t taste great? Absolutely.  But I’ve never made a pairing that didn’t have one interesting or redeeming quality.  I guess I’ve had some bad pairings from others – it usually happens when people try to get too creative and just pile on the flavors and add truffle oil – but I would never save room for them on my shelf of memories.  There are too many good things to taste and combinations to make for me to remember the ones that weren’t memorable.

 

You’re an expert on pairing cheese to delicious condiments like tequila-braised rhubarb, pickles, handmade matcha marshmallows. How are you on pairing cheese to people? Here’s 5 whose perfect cheese pairings I’d like you to explore:

Detective Dale Cooper on Twin Peaks: Definitely some Cougar Gold, It’s cheese in a can from Washington State University.  Weird enough for Dale, weird enough for me.

Hillary Clinton: She’s very much a pioneer.  She’s the Laura Chenel of politics, right?  At the time of her entry she seemed revolutionary, but now that the culture’s changed she’s just a really well made chevre.  Nothing wrong with that, just not sure I’d want chevre to be my top cheese, ya dig?

– Jim Jarmusch: Jarmusch is just so NYC, so I want to pair him with a NYC cheese.  We don’t make much because we’re eight million people deep in urban living, so I’m thinking Salvatore Bklyn Smoked Ricotta.  It’s clean and smooth but has its very own kind of punk rock attitude. Very Jim.

– RZA: I have to respect RZA for his radical black Taoist veganism.  He’s probably one of the few people I’d be willing to eat vegan ‘cheese’ with.

– Gloria Steinem: I have a lot of conflicting feelings about Steinem.  I worked for her at Ms. Magazine as intern 10,000 years ago.  She’s an icon. I get it.  I appreciate it.  I’m not sure if I’m left behind or she’s left behind.  I guess I’d want to feed her Kraft singles, to show her how so many poor and working class Americans eat. I mean, she understands working class cheese on an intellectual level, but she’s not been in the muck of it for a very long time.

 

Thank you, Tia! All book photos by Noah Feck