In this blog series, our summer intern Jackie will interview a variety of cheesemakers, mongers, and buyers, in order to get a glimpse into their day-to-day life. Follow along as Jackie goes behind the scenes and brings you the inside look on the cheese world.
Tripp Nichols is a man of many talents. Some of you may recognize him from Formaggio Kitchen, in Cambridge, where he works as the Cheese Side Manager – which is basically the person who is in charge of everyone that works on the cheese side of the store. Tripp has worked at Formaggio for about 5 years, but his focus has been solely on cheese for the past 3 years. Tripp is considered to be both a cheesemonger (someone who sells cheese) as well as a cheese buyer. As a cheese buyer, Tripp builds relationships with different cheese makers by traveling around New England and sometimes Europe to strengthen bonds with suppliers as well as seek out new opportunities for the shop.
Tripp explained that Formaggio specializes in products that other places don’t have. Their inventory is massive, and as an employee, Tripp is responsible for knowing a little something about everything that comes into the store. He admits that it can be a little difficult to keep up with tasting all of the new wines and beers, as well as remembering all of the information about the producers of the artisanal butters and jams. The staff keeps a Google Document of tasting notes for products, such as wine, so that employees can refresh their memory.
As a cheese guy, Tripp’s main focus lies on the cheese side of the store. In addition to the large array of products, Formaggiohas an enormous selection of cheese—over 300 different kinds.
As a cheesemonger, Tripp gets in every morning at 7a.m. and spends the next 2 hours (the shop opens at 9a.m.) setting up the cheese cases and displays for the day. At night, all of the cheese gets wrapped-up and put away in the walk-in cooler, so each morning it must all be taken out and assembled. By 9a.m., the shop is ready for the day! Once the shop is open, the cheesemongers begin to fill orders from restaurants and patiently await their next victims
A little known fact about Formaggio is that they have their own cheese caves directly underneath the store. Tripp kindly walked me through the prep-kitchen and down a dark passageway into the basement, where the caves are located, to get a closer look.
Tripp explains that the mongers are constantly down in the caves. Either bringing up new cheese, rotating and flipping the cheese to ensure that the cheeses age evenly, or wiping away “cheese mites,” which look a little bit like dust, but are actually living organisms that are always present around cheese. They aren’t harmful, but they can create off flavors in cheese sometimes, so it is safest to brush them away.
The cheese caves are kept at a balmy 50-56°F, with a 98% humidity level. To keep the caves humid, the mongers fill the floor with standing water, which gets refreshed 2-3 times a day. (A Word to the wise: if you ever find yourself visiting a cheese cave, don’t wear open toed shoes! The floors are wet, and there will most likely be up to an inch of standing water in some places.)
While in the caves, Tripp taught me about the art of tasting cheese, using a cheese iron to reach into the middle of the wheel, without actually cutting into the cheese. Any holes or cracks that form in the cheese are smoothed over with a little bit of butter, to prevent further damage to the wheel and to cover up and taste tests. To see the cheese iron in action, click here.
Other parts of Tripp’s job include ordering cheese, which he typically does on Mondays and Tuesdays, after the busy weekend. He gets to talk to all of the producers once a week, which really helps to enforce the bonds he has with them. Tripp also mentioned that on his days off he often goes up to Vermont, where a majority of the producers live. He visits their homes, meets their families, joins them on the ski slopes, and even gets invited over for dinner! Tripp also provides cheesemakers with feedback about their products. Since he is the one who will eventually be selling the cheese to people, the makers really value his opinion. They want to make something that people will get excited about, and Tripp is their main resource.
At this point in the conversation Tripp’s eyes light up. His absolute favorite part of the job is the culture around food and cheese that has become an integral part of his work over the last 5 years. The relationships that he has curated with cheesemakers and farmers are priceless. He has met amazing people and traveled to amazing places. Tripp never thought working at Formaggio would turn into a career, but it definitely has, and it’s easy to see that he truly loves his work.
I love the food community that is around cheese and food, in this city and in New England. I love the relationships that I’ve established through food. The co-workers are good too (haha)”
“70% of people don’t know what they want [when they come in to the store] they say ‘I have 5 people coming over, I need 3 cheeses, maybe a variety of milks’ we taste through a bunch of cheeses and find the right thing for them.”
“I feel like I never eat cheese outside of work”
“whenever we get new cheese, we try it, cheese is definitely really batch to batch”
“I love seeing the smiles on people’s faces when you’ve helped them well, and you know you’ve helped them well, that’s really gratifying for me”
- Tripp is absolutely obsessed with skiing. He grew up skiing on Sugarbush mountain in Vermont, and you can most definitely find him there all winter long.
- Before working at Formaggio, Tripp worked at restaurants and liquor stores in the Boston area, as well as on a fishing boat in Alaska.
- Tripp comes from many generations of furniture makers—perhaps you have heard of Nichols and Stone?
- When not at Formaggio or working, Tripp rarely eats cheese.
- Cheese of the Moment: “Spring is for goat cheese or sheep’s milk cheese.” Tripp currently loves Ekiola—a sheep’s milk cheese from the South of France.
- Favorite overall style: Tripp always loves a sharp cheddar or a Comté-style cheese, but he thinks they are best in the winter.
- Seasonal drink pairing: A nice glass of cold rosé to go with that goat cheese.
- Favorite cheese plate item (that isn’t cheese): Lucca olives and really good bread.