Everyone in Atlanta (and beyond) knows all about Tim Gaddis…or do they? I had the opportunity to sit down with everyone’s favorite Cheesemonger from Star Provisions for a Q&A session to find out everything from how he got his start in the business (did you know he was a police officer first?), to his current favorite cheeses, and a preview into what he has in store for the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, which comes to town May 30 – June 2, 2013.
Q. You’re returning to the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival this year with two different classes, can you tell us more about what we can expect?
One of the classes is going to be on Saturday, and it’s a bourbon and cheese pairing. You’ve seen beer and cheese, wine and cheese, but I thought it would be fun to do bourbon and cheese since bourbon is southern and we get a lot more southern cheeses in the shop. We love the south, we love the bourbons, it just made sense. So I made connections with the guys from The Bourbon Review, Seth and Justin Thompson, at the Food & Wine festival in 2012, and over the last year we talked about putting this together, so that one is going to be fun. The next one is on Sunday with a former colleague of mine, Liz Thorpe who used to be the vice president at Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York City. She started to work at Murray’s at the same time I did in 2003, stayed on and became vice president, taking the company to great levels, and now she’s doing a book tour. So we are teaming up to do an old world/new world cheese comparison class. We’re going to be talking about some old classic French style and European style cheeses, and bringing in their southern, American counterparts, talking about how those cheeses influenced the new cheeses, and how the two work together.
Great idea, feels like you’re getting a history lesson to go along with the tasting session.
Right, you definitely get a history lesson as well. A lot of people are familiar with the classic French cheeses, so to be able to relate that to some of the cheeses being made right here in our backyard, it puts things together for people. Like classic French cuisine, we wouldn’t be making what we make in restaurants today without those classics from Europe. And the cheeses we’re making now were of course influenced by cheeses that were made 800 years ago throughout Europe, so we’re just following along with what people have done before and putting our own spin on it.
Q: What are you most looking forward to about the festival this year?
I’m definitely looking forward to the bourbon class. It’s been fun working with Seth and Justin leading up to it. I haven’t really seen anyone try to put those two things together before, and it’s two things I enjoy a lot. I’m also looking forward to catching some of the seminars going on. Any time Tyler Brown from The Hermitage in Nashville comes down, I’m always excited to see what he’s doing. I always enjoy his food every time I’m in Nashville. They actually just started up a farm, Double H Farms, and they’re raising their own beef. So I can imagine they’re going to be putting together something interesting around their new farm. And of course, roaming around the tasting tents – that’s always fun.
Q: You haven’t always had a background in cheese. I’ve seen pictures of you when you were once a police officer, and then you moved to NYC. Can you tell us more about that?
I was a police officer in North Georgia in a little town called Ellijay. After my daughter Nicole was born, we didn’t feel right about her going to day care, and felt like she needed a stay at home parent for those first few years of life. So I quit work and stayed home with her, while my wife continued her job as an attorney. When my wife went back to work after having Nicole, she worked out of Atlanta. For the first six months or so we had a home in Ellijay, and she was commuting from Atlanta. Then we had an apartment in Atlanta and a home in Ellijay, which was a lot of fun, going home to the mountains on the weekend. But then we bought a house closer to Atlanta, and I just stayed at home for the next couple of years.
I knew once my daughter started school I would have to go back to work, but if I had gone back to the police department, I would have been starting over. I had always been interested in cooking, and during those years I was a stay at home dad I did a lot more of it. So I decided to go to culinary school. My wife made a joking remark, or at least I think she was joking, that I should pick out whatever school I liked, and if I can get in, we’ll figure out how to go. So I decided on the French Culinary Institute in New York, as I thought it was one of the best choices. If you want to go to where the best is, you go to New York City, that’s the food capital. And I got in. So we sold our house, and my wife was able to continue working out of our apartment in Brooklyn.
A couple of months into culinary school, I had a few internships including at Union Pacific and with Rocco Dispirito. But they were only internships, so I wasn’t getting paid. Then Rob Kaufelt, the owner of Murray’s Cheese Shop came to school one day, and did a presentation. He said if anyone needs a job we’re opening up a new store at Grand Central Station and I need some retail people. So I bugged him until he said to come on down, and they hired me. And that’s when I fell in love with cheese. Of course because I spent money to go to culinary school, I thought I’m going to eventually go work for a kitchen. I interviewed with a couple of kitchens in New York City, and each time they asked “why do you want to leave Murray’s?” and after two or three times being asked that, I realized I actually don’t, except to come back to Atlanta. So I stayed at Murray’s until we moved back.
When we moved, I started looking around trying to find restaurants, cheese shops, etc. to work in, and came across Star Provisions. This was back in December 2003, when there were no other cheese shops in town at the time. I sent my resume to Chef Anne Quatrano, and Rob at Murray’s was nice enough to give me a good recommendation. It was right around Christmas, so Chef Quatrano needed someone that could just jump in and start cutting cheese, and I haven’t moved from this spot since.
Q: Clearly thing have changed in the past 10 years since you first started, going from being the only cheese shop at the time to everything we have now. Have you had to do anything to compete with the changing times/offerings or have you always been doing something here that’s so unique that the formula didn’t need to change?
I don’t think the formula needed to change. I think its just you do what you do best and you stay the course, and you don’t try to change just because of what someone else does. That’s really the best way to do it, and even back then when I came back down, being a southern boy, my passion has always been all things southern. So at the time, for example, I had Sweet Grass Dairy cheese, because I still wanted to offer something local. But of course no one wanted that, as everyone wanted French and European, or the Wisconsin and California cheeses. But since then I’ve seen what people are looking for now has shifted from European cheeses to the local southern cheeses.
Going back to the history and the cheese class I’m doing with Liz, cheese has been made exactly the same way for hundreds of years, and it really hasn’t changed. It’s three ingredients – milk, salt and rennet, and a few other cultures and starters working their way in there, but for the most part those are the three basic ingredients for cheese, and they’ve been doing it that way since the beginning, and that’s what fascinates me. Cheese is just simply a means of preservation. Anytime I get people who talk about wanting a “fancy” cheese or “gourmet” cheese, it always kind of bugs me a little bit, because 300 years ago it was just a farmer trying to preserve his milk. They weren’t trying to be gourmet, they weren’t trying to be fancy, it was purely preservation.
You were ahead of your time, but what’s interesting is that you just did it because that’s what you knew and loved.
Right, it’s just the region that I loved. And if you go to a cheese shop in Normandy or Italy, they’re selling cheeses that were made down the road. They’re selling stuff that’s local and they’re not trying to sell what was made in England or Scotland, etc. This is what was made down here. This is what we have. This is it. And of course we want to offer as much selection to the customer as possible, but I think it’s important to also offer what’s local, or at least regional. Over the last 10 years I’ve noticed people a lot more interested in what’s going on locally.
Q: What future trends are you seeing as it relates to cheese? Any shifts that you’re keeping your eye on?
Local is really the biggest thing that I’ve seen and what you’ll see more of at this cheese shop. I’ve stayed friends with cheesemongers throughout the nation, and everyone is focused on the same thing, on what’s going on in their local areas. But what I have noticed with southern cheeses especially, is that it helped that the American Cheese Society Conference was in Raleigh, NC last year, so it really introduced the whole nation to what’s going on in the south. Now I’ve noticed more often cheesemongers I’m friends with in New York and Philadelphia saying “Tell me more about this dairy down in the south that I keep hearing about. Do you have a contact for them?” – it’s nice to see them interested in what we have going on here.
Q: What would you say are your top three must have cheeses for the moment?
There are so many cheeses… they are all just so good. But if I had to narrow it down: Many Fold Farm – in Chattahoochee Hills, south Fulton county Georgia, has their condor’s ruin – the name comes from the Condor family who used to run a dairy in that area (in ruin). It’s ash ripened, pyramid shaped, sheep’s milk cheese. You see a lot of that ripened, pyramid goats milk, but this is a sheep’s milk. They are the only sheep’s milk producer in Georgia, and one of only 3 in the southeast. They are definitely forging the way, as you don’t see a whole lot of sheep’s milk cheeses being made throughout the U.S. compared to cow and goat, because they produce less milk and its expensive to produce cheese from, but they make amazing cheese.
The second one is another one from Georgia, the Fort Sonia from Nature’s Harmony Farm. It’s an alpine style cow’s milk cheese. Tim young is the cheesemaker, and he makes the cheese spring through fall when his cows are eating fresh grass. That’s the only time he makes the cheese. So the cows are always feeding on fresh grass, never on anything supplementary, so its really just rich, earthy, grass fed, buttery cow’s milk cheese. It’s really deep, as you get the grass fed milk and the grassy flavor. The age really starts to come through as you also get caramel notes, butterscotch, a little bit nutty, sweet – a delicious cheese.
The third one would be something I just cut open – a wheel of Bayley Hazen Blue from Jasper Hill Farm, just a gorgeous, phenomenal cheese. It’s always a great cheese and a staple around here, I love it. Sometimes I cut open the wheel and it’s just so fabulous. I would imagine that most of them I will have over the next few months are going to be equally as good, because you definitely see that change in season especially from a small farm like Jasper Hill. I always pay attention to the batch number on the cheeses, so I know exactly when that’s going to happen – when to watch for different flavors.
You know my favorite right now is the Capra Gia chèvre which you introduced me to, and when the season changes to cold, it’s back to the Winnimere (also Jasper Hill)…
Goat cheeses are great for spring, because the goat farms will dry off their goats in the winter, they’ll get pregnant and have kids in the spring, and then when the kids finish nursing they start producing milk again for cheese making, so that’s why you see a lot of fresh goats milk cheeses in the spring. They can be made year round, with the proper approach, but the flowers and the grass starting to come up for their feed makes a big difference. They’re not just eating straw in the barn, they’re eating fresh grass and flowers. It makes a world of difference in the taste of the cheese.
Q: Any final thoughts?
Come visit us for cheese tastings at the shop. We host them every third Thursday, every month (the next one is this Thursday, May 16th at 6pm – French 101). There are about four to five cheeses, two wines, and a different theme each month. Last month was Many Fold Farm, which I liked as it is great being able to do something with the local farm. That way the cheese makers can come up, talk about their cheeses, tell people how it’s made and how they came up with the idea. It’s nice to give customers the opportunity to make that link between their cheese and the cheesemaker. Everybody comes in and talks to me day after day, but to actually be able to put them in my position, to talk directly to the cheesemaker – it’s a unique experience for them.
So you don’t have to be an expert to come to the tastings, it’s for everyone at every level, and you’re going to learn something no matter what?
Right, you definitely don’t have to be an expert. You either like the cheese or you don’t. It’s all just about getting to know what you like.
Star Provisions is located at 1198 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta, GA. Reservations for the cheese tasting can be made at 404-365-0410 ext. 132. Cost is $25 and includes cheese & wine; Tickets for the 2013 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival can be purchased here. Festival dates are May 30 – June 2, ticket prices vary.