Washington, DC is to lying what Wisconsin is to cheese, says Dennis Miller. Thankfully, there are more dairies in the US than politicians in DC, and that allowed Tim Gaddis of Marietta, Georgia, to follow his dream. “I spent ten years in law enforcement and I gave something back to society. Those years were a lot of fun. You know, you’re twenty-three, twenty-four. You get fast cars, guns, what’s not to love,” he laughs. After a decade behind the thin blue line he crossed it, donned an apron and went from cop to cheesemonger.
Cheese has only three ingredients - salt, milk and rennet - and from them come hundreds of varieties each with their own unique characteristics.
“Each cheese has a story. That fascinates me. Just think about that,” says Gaddis. “Cheese is essentially spoiled milk. It was originally a farmer’s way of preserving his milk.” Thousands of years ago people noticed that the milk they put into canteens made of animal stomachs would curdle. They removed the curds and started experimenting. Today’s cheesemakers curdle cheese with rennet, derived from rennin, which comes from a cow’s fourth stomach. Rennet coagulates milk into curds and whey.
Once the mixture is salted and curdled, cheesemakers cut up the curds. The smaller the pieces, the harder the cheese; curds for gruyère and cheddar are finely sliced while those for Brie and Camembert are left whole. Cheesemakers drain the curds, pack them into molds and usually weight them. With the science over, the art begins.
Cheesemakers consider the type of milk (cow, sheep, goat), whether it’s raw or pasteurized, its fat content, the animals’ diet, temperature and humidity, aging location and durations, seasons, ambient molds and bacteria. Some cheeses are cooked, some “washed” with brandy, wine or beer, others submerged in brine. Configuring and adjusting these variables creates Greek feta, Italian mozzarella, German (originally Belgian) Limburger and everything in between.
“Cheese is all about handling and aging,” says Gaddis. “It’s about geography. You can taste what an animal ate in a good cheese. That’s why the best cheeses are made in their country of origin.”
Some cheeses, like some wines, carry an appellation of controlled origin label (AOC). It identifies a particular food as integral to a country’s culinary heritage, indicates that it’s made in a specific region using approved methods and meets strict standards. Only cheese aged in the Cambalou caves of France containing penicililum roqueforti can be called Roquefort. If an Italian inspector says Parmesan isn’t up to snuff, the cheesemaker must grind the word “Parmesan” off the cheese and legally cannot sell it as such.
Gaddis loved being a police officer and intended to stay on the force. Then his daughter Nicole was born and “we didn’t want her to spend her first years of life in daycare.” Because his wife Kim made more money as an attorney, Gaddis stayed home, initiating his Mr. Mom phase. Diapering and watching food shows were his two main activities and soon he, Mario and Emeril were constant companions. “I realized,” he says “that I liked to cook.” He also read Steve Jenkins’ encyclopedic “Cheese Primer”, awakening his hitherto unknown passion for cheese.
Despite having paid his dues, Gaddis found that he’d have to start at the bottom if he returned to the force and work nights. Nothing doing. He told Kim that his dream was to go to New York City’s French Culinary Institute. She said if he got in, they’d move. Next thing she knew they were signing a lease in Brooklyn. Kim kept up her law practice from New York while Gaddis immersed himself in “Classic Culinary Arts” and “Fundamentals of Wine.”
At school he applied for an internship with Murray’s Cheese, an artisanal shop in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village that has been in the business since 1940, figuring that “cheese was a good thing to know” for any future restaurant job. He found himself drawn to retail’s constant customer give-and-take, “that aspect of the job, surprisingly really satisfied me, still does,” but mostly, he fell head-over-heels in love with cheese.
Gaddis loves its range of flavors: sweet, nutty, earthy, mushroomy, lemony, fruity, grassy, barnyardy, gamey, herbaceous, peppery. “From the interior out to the rind, the flavor changes. You taste fresh milk sweetness in the center of Camembert and more earthy complex flavors towards the rind. And that’s with every cheese. Amazing!”
Gaddis got the cheesemonger position at Chef Ann Quatronno’s Star Provisions gourmet food shop in Atlanta when they returned to Georgia. He loves it more than he loved policing. He spends his days reveling in cheese, talking about it, selling it, and hosting cheese tastings like “World of Sheep Cheese” (August), “Washed Rind Cheeses,” (October) and “Holiday Blues” (December). “It’s really informal. We just sit around and talk and eat.”
Montgomery’s, a classic English cloth-bound cheddar is his favorite. Traditional English cheddars are bound with cloth, rubbed with lard and aged in traditional barns and cellars. He likes Vermont’s Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and prizes local southern cheeses like North Carolina’s washed-rind Calvander and Georgia’s Green Hill, a soft cheese. “You can taste the farm in a good cheese. You can taste the love and care their hands put into that cheese.” He loves Pyrenees sheep cheeses like Ossau Iraty and Abbaye de Belloc. “And if I’m going to take cheese home, it’ll be Stilton. It’s buttery and spicy and I like that earthy nuttiness. Stilton makes me happy.”
Gaddis says he doesn’t miss policing because selling cheese is just as thrilling. Of putting together a complicated cheese plate for a party he says: “I still find it every bit as challenging as taking a DUI to jail. It’s the same adrenaline rush.” With a lot less paperwork. And no night shifts.