year of the goat

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August 21, 2003 | The Cheese Master
Max McCalman
Max McCalman serves up our all-goat cheese plate at Picholine
In early August, our friends Ron and Jessica took us for a farewell dinner at Artisanal, the midtown restaurant dedicated to exploring the world of cheese. We had an incredible meal, including a fondue with duck confit in it, and an apple tarte tatin with cheese in the crust. The array of cheeses they had for sale, not only within your meal, but also by the ounce, was so vast and pungent that it was literally stunning.

Through dinner, I had a nagging feeling that I'd just read something about Artisanal, but I couldn't remember what. It turned out that a few days earlier,we had been given an article from the Canadian version of Time Magazine about a couple in Quebec who were making prize-winning goat cheeses. The article had been written by Max McCalman, and the brief bio about the author had mentioned that he was maître fromager at both Artisanal and Picholine restuarants. Karl was still working at, so he called someone at Time Canada, got Max's phone number, explained to him about our project, and set up an interview. Max suggested that we meet him in the late afternoon at Picholine and so, armed with our minidisc recorder, a copy of Max's book The Cheese Plate, and Karl's various cameras, we set off for the Upper West Side.

Neither of us had been to Picholine before, but we knew by its reputation and Zagat rating that it was an excellent restaurant. From the outside it was unassuming, but once in the doors, the décor was opulent, with tapestries on the walls, high ceilings, and a smattering of silver, radish-shaped vases holding calla lilies. It was also cold, compared to the grimy steam of the city, and we felt a little dishevelled walking into such pristine surroundings with damp rings under our arms. The restaurant wasn't yet open, but everyone milling around doing the last-minute preparations seemed to pity us and offered water and chairs. Someone went to find Max, and we were summoned, unexpectedly for us, to conduct the interview in his cheese cave.

A young woman ushered us through the dining room and into the wine room, which is connected to the cheese cave, where Max was setting up the evening's cheese cart. He greeted us, then continued to fuss over cheese placements, moving, sniffing, and prodding his cheeses into just the right positions. As we talked, I sat on a chair and Karl moved around taking photos of the cheeses in motion. Max answered our questions as he moved in and out of his temperature-regulated cheese cave, speaking for the most part in modulated tones (which were sometimes lost in the tunnel of cheese), but suddenly becoming impassioned about such issues as pasteurization and the global effects of European cheese subsidies.

One of our final questions was what Max would put on an all goat cheese plate, and in answer, he made up a sample plate for us. Surrounding a pile of fig and almond cake, prune and walnut cake, the Spanish quince paste called membrillo, and two Medjool dates were, in the order in which they were to be eaten, small slabs of: Chabichou du Poitou, Mont Saint Francis, Ibores, and Harbourne Blue. The cheeses were arranged in order of their delicacy, with the smooth, milder cheeses beginning the plate, and a final veined blue cheese rounding it out. We sat in the cafe of the restaurant, and Max also sent us glasses of wines to try with the cheeses, suggesting a Pouilly-Fumé with the first three, and a sweet Quart-de-Chaume with the last. My favorite of the cheeses was the first, the Chabichou, which was from the Loire Valley and reminded me of a creamy goat cheese my mom bought when I was little and we lived in France. Karl's favorite went back and forth between the Mont Saint Francis and the Ibores; though he normally doesn't like blue cheeses, he even liked the Harbourne Blue.

Once we'd had a bite of everything in the order Max had recommended, we experimented with pairing the cheeses with the different wines and accompaniments. What really astonished us was how the flavors of the cheeses totally changed depending upon the wine or the bit of dried fruit that followed. As Max recommends in his book, we tried to focus on each flavor and at once describe and dissect what we were tasting. The whole experience felt very civilized, and we left feeling truly grateful to Max for the afternoon. —MMH

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Our Book is Here!

The Year of the Goat

The Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese
The Lyons Press, Aug 2007
Book Tour Info

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YotG on
Public Radio!

In 2004 we made 4 appearances on the now sadly off the air, but then nationally syndicated PRI show, The Next Big Thing
Fortunately you can hear the shows in their archives:
1st show | 2nd show | 3rd show | 4th show

Miles Traveled: 41409
Next Stop: A farm of our own