Behind every cheese, there’s a good story waiting to be told. You just have to ask the right people. In this blog series, Amanda will be interviewing cheesemongers from around the country and relaying their most fantastic tales of international travel, in-shop aging, and curious customers. Last week we met culture’s very own retailer, Lassa Skinner. This week we sit down with Linni Kral of South Boston’s American Provisions. Read on, and you’ll have a chance to win a copy of our Cheese+ ultimate pairings issue!
Even in the summer, when most of us are happily smearing fresh cheese across any surface that will suffice, Linni Kral still can’t get enough of Alpine-style hard cheeses. “A lot of Alpines are used in winter because they melt well,” she said. “But right now, I’m really into this cheese called Heublumen from a small town in Switzerland. It’s only aged six months. They brush the outside with fresh grass, so there’s this beautiful, dark green, funky rind on the outside, but inside it’s creamy, brighter, and citrusy. So it’s great to eat in the summer.”
The description had me ready to trade in my log of summer chèvre for a wedge of Linni’s recommendation. As lead merchandiser at South Boston’s American Provisions, Linni is well versed in translating her love of cheese through palatable adjectives. But Linni’s passion for the product she sells is at once deep-seated and newly discovered—just five years ago, in college, she was a vegan. But after joining the American Provisions team and attending Long Island City’s Cheesemonger Invitational, she “fell in love with cheese.”
“It’s like a gaming convention,” she said, describing the Invitational. “I realized there’s this underbelly of crazy cheese people, and if I hadn’t gotten this job, I wouldn’t have known it existed. There are all sorts of people like cheese—there’s no one stripe of cheese geek.”
Though she may have only recently made her debut into the community of dairy-lovers, Linni’s commitment to environmentalism and animal welfare hasn’t wavered – it’s just been reconfigured. “The more I learn about it, the more I’m convinced cheese is the most natural thing,” she said. “It’s preserving the milk that’s going to be produced by animals no matter what. I think that it’s a very environmentally conscious thing to make.”
Linni is currently applying for a scholarship to study cheese in the Alps, in part because she’s drawn to the relationship between the cheesemakers and their dairy cows. “They really appreciate the animal there,” she explained. “They literally have parades to celebrate the cows; they shower them with flowers.”
Perhaps when describing her beloved Alpine cheeses to customers, Linni should mention that they also carry sweet notes of ethical standards. “I studied politics in college, so I’m always looking to make my job political. And the way we support small famers is the most political thing we can do.”
And what better way to spread good politics than by forging the personal connection between producers and consumers? Linni was immediately attracted to American Provisions’ grounded approach to introducing customers to good food without pretension. “A lot of [cheese shops] get held back by this perceived elitism. What I love most is that we keep it humble and welcoming,” she said. “I think that part of the reason we have this store instead of letting people buy cheese at Whole Foods or any other capable vendor is we like to tell the stories behind the products.”
The products have stories, indeed. And as the resident blogger for the American Provision’s blog, Linni is skilled in the art of yarn spinning. Take, for example, the story Linni shares with her customers about the cheese sourced from Boston Post Dairy. The Vermont dairy is run by Robert and Gisele Gervais and their fifteen children, who named a couple varieties of cheeses after their hardworking parents to show their appreciation. “That family has so much respect for each other,” she said. “I think it’s just awesome.”
Then there’s the shop’s products from Big Picture Farm. “It was started by a couple who they met while interning for goat cheese making place in Vermont,” Linni explained. “When they got married, they registered for goats so that guests could buy them goats instead of gifts. They got a small piece of land, and now they make cheese and milk caramels with all the goat’s milk. They’re the nicest people.”
But enough – we get it. People who make, sell, and buy cheese are inherently awesome humans. Once Linni gets talking about the tales behind the labels, her customers start to itch with excitement and grumble with hunger. So let’s get back to this delicious Heublumen Alpine cheese. How could one make a meal of it? “I’d pair it with this shallot and red wine jam from Quince and Apple,” Linni suggested. “It has this sweet, meaty flavor that would go nicely with the cheese. I’d also eat it with beer. A Belgian beer.”
Linni’s thoughtful pairings keep her customers returning to the counter time and time again. “I figure most people who come in to find [ingredients] for a wine and cheese dinner can figure out the basics for themselves, so I urge them to get creative.”
Beer and ice cream, for example. “I suggested an Evil Genius Chocolate Stout with salted caramel ice cream,” she said. Now that’s one party menu that’s bound to earn you serious hostess points.
While some cheese traditionalists might turn up their noses, Linni is just glad those types aren’t the ones shopping at her store. “In this age of cheese snobs, I just try to keep it fun.”
Have you met a cheesemaker or retailer who has reinforced your food politics or inspired you to adopt a different outlook? Tell us about it in the comments section, and you could win a copy of our Cheese+ pairing issue! Comments must be posted by 11:59 p.m. EDT on Monday August 11, 2014 to be eligible to win. Good luck!Photo Credit: Photos courtesy of Linni Kral