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A Lesson in Cheesecraft: Introduction

Gillian Marino

I didn’t always want to work in cheese. It didn’t even occur to me until my final semester of college. Up until that point I’d planned on applying to medical school, but then a surgeon I was shadowing told me to go into medicine only if I want it to be my whole life, for the rest of my life. The idea of everything other than my career, including my family and happiness, taking a permanent back seat shook me from my planned path and left me searching for a new career possibility.

Food has always been a great passion in my life. I spent the last two years of college going to the Pawtucket winter market and buying cheese from Louella Hill, who was then the cheesemaker at Narragansett Creamery. During that final semester, after my talk with the surgeon, I went to her every week and asked about how I might make my way into the cheese world. Finally, after some screening, she connected me with a sheep dairy in Tuscany, the very same place she had spent months learning how to make cheese five years earlier.

A year later, I started my path in cheese at Podere Campriano, a working farm in Sovicille, Italy. There I developed a passion for the art of Italian cheesemaking and a love for sheep.

Upon returning to the U.S., I worked as a butcher for a year before joining the Somerville, Massachusetts-basedFiore Di Nonno. I ran the kitchen, making hand-stretched mozzarella, burrata, and stracciatella with local Massachusetts milk.

I loved my time at Fiore Di Nonno, but I couldn’t stay away from Italy and my favorite sheep’s milk cheeses for too long. So, I returned to Tuscany to work for the farm Corzano e Paterno. Over two months, I helped produce and care for fourteen different kinds of sheep’s milk cheeses, from washed rinds to blue cheeses, from young cheeses to 18-month aged Pecorino.

Today I work as a cheesemaker and monger for Bee’s Knees Supply Co. in Boston’s up-and-coming Fort Point neighborhood. I hand stretch fresh mozzarella, stracciatella, and burrata in-house. I also work to build their domestic cheese repertoire by connecting with cheesemakers from all over the country and bringing distant American artisan cheeses to Boston!

Now that you understand my background, let’s get into the meat of this blog series: This fall I had the unique opportunity to travel to England and France to complete a series of courses in professional cheesemaking and affinage. This courses were through The School of Artisan Food on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire England, and The Academie Opus Caseus in Saint-Haon France. In England, I crafted a few cheeses under the guidance of Ivan Larcher, cheesemaker and consultant extraordinaire, and brought them with me to France, to mature them under the guidance of the professionals at the MonS Fromager-Affineur caves. It is truly extraordinary to watch a cheese go from milk to mold formation in a few short weeks. In trades like cheesemaking and affinage, doing hands on work is the best way to truly absorb and understand the craft, which made this project invaluable to me.

Next week we’ll be starting at the beginning with cheesemaking at The School of Artisan Food, so stay tuned!

Photo courtesy of Bee’s Knees Supply Company.

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