Heat, Robiola, and Erin Carlman Weber—A Trip to Formaggio Kitchen
Earlier this summer, I attended the Taste of Cambridge and came across some delicious cheese samples from Formaggio Kitchen. I made a mental note to visit the store, and set out many weeks later to make the journey.
Since I had never been to the shop before, I had the choice to either drive my car or make use of public transportation. Fearing the absence of parking spaces in the city, I chose to walk the 20 minutes from Harvard Square, which was a big mistake in the blistering heat that day, especially when I realized Formaggio Kitchen isn't exactly in the most central area of town. There were parking spaces galore.
Once I got to the shop, I was thankful for the air conditioning. There were three sections to the store—one with the cheese counter, a middle area with pastas and sweets, and a third space with fresh produce and bread. Seeing as how this was my first experience in a cheese shop, I had to gather some nerve before testing my knowledge with one of the cheesemongers. I asked for samples and ate many pieces of fresh chevre. The favorite that I tasted, was a meaty Robiola. I picked up a nice crusty Italian bread and brought a small wheel of the stuff home.
As a follow-up, I spoke with Formaggio Kitchen's Erin Carlman Weber, and asked her a few questions about working at the shop:
CM: What is your favorite part about working in a cheese shop?
EW: It’s a tie between eating a quarter of a pound of cheese a day and constantly learning new, awesome things. Especially in a shop like Formaggio Kitchen, there’s so much to take in, both about the vast world of cheese and its complements in the rest of the edible realm. And as our education and events coordinator, it’s also rewarding to help others learn and enjoy.
CM: What made you want to work in the cheese world?
EW: As a lifelong eater of food, cheese has been an especially captivating category of things I put in in my belly. Cheese isn’t just fun to eat. It’s also fun to think about, both in terms of its cultural significance around the world and the endless variations in flavors and styles.
CM: What do you think goes best with a good cheese?
EW: Friends, crusty bread, and a fermented beverage.
CM: What’s in your refrigerator right now?
EW: Butter, leftover buckwheat crepe batter, several half lemons, lots of jam and preserves, a chunk of Parm, a block of sheep feta, the sad remnants of a ball of burrata, two bombers of Pretty Things Jack d’Or, a bottle of lambrusco, a carton of eggs, a tub of duck fat, a head of broccoli, some scallions, and many pickled things.
CM: What’s the best thing a customer has ever said to you?
EW: Someone told me recently that a cheese I’d helped him pick out was just what he’d been hankering for, even though he hadn’t known exactly what he wanted when he came into the shop. Success! When I can crack the mystery cheese craving puzzle and send someone home happy, that’s the best.
CM: Do you tend to get customers who know a lot about cheese, or do you have to help direct them?
EW: It’s a mix, and both kinds of cheese lovers are fun to work with. It’s rewarding to help less experienced folks learn about their cheese preferences by tasting various styles and milk types, but talking with a customer about the differences between this wheel of Pyrénées brebis and the last one she had is fun in a different way.
CM: What’s the funniest thing that’s happened at the shop since you’ve been there?
EW: My coworker once bet me a bag of pricey pasta that I couldn’t eat an entire Pavé d’Affinois in one bite. He was right, but he bought me the pasta anyway.
CM: What’s the most frustrating customer interaction you’ve had?
EW: There’s no particular incident that sticks out. However, any time I get the feeling that my customer isn’t totally happy with a cheese they’ve tried but leaves with it anyway, that bothers me. We have hundreds of cheeses! At least one was meant for you! Just try them!